THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide




Thoughts about reviews from one reviewer
Age Eighty-One

Notes to a young director worried about mixed/negative reviews of the new show:

One of the silliest yet the most important things I remember from my days working in the shop of the Loeb Drama Center the first decade of its existence was this --- and remember, unlike my old drinking-buddy Wilm Shaxpy I "have No Latin (and Less Greek!)" --- anyway it was this dictum:


Which I was told translated

"Don't let the bastards grind you down!"

I flitted perfunctoraly through the reviews yesterday; I didn't want to Read them before the show, but I may sift through them later today or so. I did get a sense of wishywashiness from most of what I saw, though.

But that's for ME.

What surprised me a little --- and worried me much --- was Your concern.

And the one piece of unasked advice I have for you is: Try, at least for a while, to insulate yourself from reviewers. Their ability to wound is far more obvious than their power to help, but too few of them even notice that this is true.

You still are A Very Y O U N G Director, yet you are thrust on the scene at a very high and highly-exposed level. On the one had, you haven't really had years directing at The Factory and thus learning to trust Yourself and fellow-workers more than some one-night egomaniac when opinions are shared; people at The Factory could Kill to be reviewed; people at The Lyric (or The Opera House) cannot avoid it.

I know that every director is different, just as every actor is different, but the one important thing I do know about all of you is that what you each Use to make theatre is Your Entire Self, strengths and fears and warts and all.

Critics wound so much, and so easily, because every syllible they utter is a critique of Each And Every One of those Selves exposing themselves onstage like fish in a barrel waiting to be targets. And not one of you fish can ever fight back.

Every critic who has ever been criticized immediately hides behind the "Hey, mine is only One Humble Opinion here!" dodge, but they never notice when attacked that Their voices, through the megaphone of something like The GLOBE, reach thousands of gullible ears, and most of those readers read reviewers so they don't have to have opinions of their own.

I have often said that the chronic illness among reviewers is Elephantiasis of The Ego, and I am not trying to defend them here, but I must say that much of what I think of as the dilemma of criticizing is ill-understood --- often by the critics themselves.

"The Critic" is asked by the editor to Write Interestingly about the Art, in this case, of Theatre. At a newspaper, that often means filling a space that would be white-space unless Something, Anything were said; and often the editor not the critic has decided which few of the Many Possibilities needs to be examined. After seeing a show, a newspaper-critic can get sometimes a day or two, sometimes only three or four hours to Say Something INTERESTING about it. And no one else, certainly not the editor, has even seen that same elephant the critic must describe --- Interestingly.

Most critics don't (many can't) stick around for the opening-night party; few critics have many lasting friendships with Theatre Makers; some critics but not all have, at some point, made or helped make plays --- and yet they must (as an editor of the GLOBE itself once told me --- impassionately) "Yes! Get that opinion in, fast and first and hard!"

And the people who Made a show have to live and die by whatever gets blurted out, no matter how well or ill deserved.

Gone alas is the distinction between the same-night REVIEW which reported what happened on stage and the THINK-PIECE on Sunday that evaluated that happening in relation to other shows and the history of the genre. The critics are all so busy monging opinions they have no time to Think anymore.

I pity the poor scrivener suddenly confronted with a show so unique, so delicately crafted or so ground-breakingly new that the general audience will need Help in understanding or even Noticing its excellences.

Better to just write --- Interestingly --- about it, and save serious evaluation for the year-end wrap-up, right? I mean, today's blazingly important opinion will just wrap some fish tomorrow, right? Let's just get on with opinionizing the next Big Audience Big Advertising blockbuster that everyone is expecting because of the t-v ads and the editor Hopes you'll like, right?

I was told, by my own ex-editor, that in my youth I was as opinionated a firebrand as the next critic --- but that was half my life ago. When the Internet freed me from that white-space that needed filling, I vowed not to waste time or words on shows I, personally, did not like. And lately I have withdrawn even further. I rarely write these days unless I DO see something so unique, so delicately crafted or so ground-breakingly new that saying nothing is impossible; or when I think most reviewers have misjudged the strengths of a particular production.

I wish some critics, instead of being merely Interesting, had the time to Describe shows, instead of merely Evaluating them. I'd like them to tell me What Is There and leave it up to Me to decide if it would be worth my money, or my time. I can tell, from how a show is "objectively" described what the describer's opinion really is --- but the only opinion I really care about is My Own, and I think every other reader should be able to say the same:

Frankly, I don't care what they Think; what did they See?

So, none of what they said is important to YOU, and I'm serious about Protecting Yourself from critics. I know how much Who and What You Are is invested in everything you do. And I know the bubble reputation is important to a young director, even in the critics' mouths. Yes, they are important, but what None of them says is one tenth as important as the word from any of your friends who Work in the business, any one of whom knows infinitely More about what you've made, and how, than any one-night egomaniacs can Ever know. Trust your friends. And your audiences. And opinion-mongers be Damned!

Break a leg.......
===Anon. (aka larry stark)


The two articles below are reprinted (without permission ) from The StageSource Newsletter and HowlRound. The material contained in both suggests a crisis in theatre-criticism which is both local and national in scope.

#NEthtr13 in Balance

Posted on December 31, 2013 by jhennrikus

Best of/Worst of: Year in Review. We have come to expect it. The list, the discussions around why “x” was added, but “y” wasn’t. Several media outlets have created their lists, including the ArtsFuse and the ARTery. (Feel free to list others in the comments.) On Sunday Don Aucoin, crtitic of the Boston Globe, published his own list, “A Year of Big Names and Big Letdowns on Stage”.

It didn’t take long for my email and social media to light up. Mr. Aucoin only briefly mentions his “highlights” of the year (which are tongue in cheek at best), and spends the entirety of his article talking about the letdowns on the season. He focuses primarily on the larger theater companies and visiting commercial productions, but even in that frame, there are no highlights? Even when one LORT theater wins a Tony for best regional theater (the Huntington Theatre Company), and the artistic director of another (the ART) wins a Tony for best director of a show that we all saw last winter? In most other end of year wrap-ups, that would at least merit a sentence.

Let me be clear about one thing—criticism is important. And critical thinking is necessary. “Liking” and “not liking” a production is the start of a conversation. Opinions matter, and critics have a wide frame that allows for more discourse. Stirring the pot is good for the stew. In these days of social media. the discourse is changing. But that doesn’t mean we don’t need critics. We do. But with the power of a platform like the Boston Globe, there is some responsibility. Mr. Aucoin has every right to write the article he did, but did it have to be his end of the year wrap up? When I think about what makes other cities a “theater” city, and why Boston isn’t described as such, I know that articles like this make a difference. We in the community know that Boston and New England have a lot of great theater going on. It comes in all shapes, sizes, price points and locations. The depth and breadth of the community is a story not told often enough. And when our paper of record doesn’t balance an end of year article (though every other art critic in the section did just that), it tells the readers of the Boston Globe that we don’t matter, or that we don’t do good work here. And diminishes our community just that little bit. Which makes it harder to say “we are a theater town”.

We are a rich, vibrant, varying community. Let’s organize around that idea in 2014. And own it. More on that later this week, with our resolutions for 2014. If you would like to write a letter to the Boston Globe about this article, here are the details: Letters to the editor should be written exclusively to the Globe and include name, address, and daytime number. They should be 200 words or fewer; all are subject to editing. Send to: E-mail:letter@globe.com, Fax: 617-929-2098, Regular mail: Letters to the Editor, The Boston Globe, PO Box 55819, Boston, MA 02205-5819

For today, in the waning hours of 2013 (and early days of 2014) let’s talk about 2013 in theater. What was your favorite show/production/moment? Comment on the blog, or on our Facebook page. Or use Twitter and hashtag (#NEthtr13) it.

Happy New Year theater makers of New England! I am proud to be part of this community, and am looking forward to working with you in 2014!

A New Year’s Diet for the Theater

by Polly Carl

January 6, 2014

This year for the holidays my spouse and I traveled 2,700 miles by car with our nine-year-old yellow lab, Leo. We started in Boston, drove to St. Louis to visit our Italian relatives. Drove to Elkhart, Indiana, to visit our Italian relatives. Drove to Buffalo, New York, to visit our Italian relatives. Each time we stopped the car we were greeted with Abbondanza! Abundance was everywhere we went in the form of food, conversation, and kisses. And I know most of us overate this holiday season, but for the sake of this essay, I’ll argue Italians do that better than most. Turkey and ham are just side dishes for us that accompany meatballs, gravy, sausage, seafood, and massive quantities of antipasti—it’s necessary to get full before you even consider the main course.

Needless to say we all arrived back in Boston needing to trim down a bit, but what sticks with me from thirty-six hours of car time to contemplate 2014 is that word we kept shouting as a new dish was pulled from the oven or brought up from the downstairs refrigerator—Abbondanza! And that’s how we say it, with an exclamation point, and almost like a one-word song in the way we drag out each syllable.

And so I’m suggesting that we create a steady diet of theater Abbondanza! for 2014—and it wouldn’t be a new year if I didn’t offer a list for what that might look like.

1. This year let’s make fewer prescriptive lists that perpetuate thumbs up/thumbs down approaches to theater. These lists kill off the idea of abundance and suggest the beauty of theater rests in simple notions of good and bad. Elaine Scarry says in her book, On Beauty and Being Just, “Beauty takes place in the particular, and if there are no particulars, the chances of seeing it go down.” Let’s improve upon our chances of seeing beauty and broaden our definition of what constitutes the good.

2. Let’s create a more abundant sense of resources. I was struck this year with the competing nature of the end of year “ask.” HowlRound participated because we didn’t come up with a more creative way to fundraise. How can we fundraise in cohorts, in creative clusters? How can we create a less rivalrous environment around resources? We need an abundance of good ideas to solve this question.

3. Let’s be nicer this year. There is a growing critical edge to social media conversation that is beginning to wear on me. It’s reflected in the comments on HowlRound as we struggle to know how to manage less generous dialogue. Our theater community seems anxious to jump on the critique bandwagon and I’m personally seeing less creative solutions to the big problems facing our field. This is reflected in the “I” mentality of social media that values individual “thought leaders”—I sometimes wonder if thought leader is another name for egomaniac—in lieu of the “we” of collaborative entrepreneurship.

Snarky or Nice?

I have to stop at number three to digress for a bit about being nicer. HowlRound has been trying for awhile now to make the case for “positive inquiry” in our practice. Defining this has been a challenge and often dismissed as some kind of Polly(anna) notion that shies away from controversy. I’ve been thinking about this in relationship to Maureen Dowd’s recent op-ed in The New York Times in praise of snark. She argues:

Succumbing to uplift, edification and happy talk is basically saying that there’s
something more important than telling the truth: not making enemies, not hurting All quarrels are not petty. Sometimes quarrels are about big things, and it’s an actual
privilege to take a side in them.

I think key to her argument about truth telling depends on the sin committed that requires us to take a stand. Is, to use the language of Dowd’s op-ed, the work of art or the behavior we’re criticizing “pernicious,” does the production or the action have “deleterious consequences” on the social order or did the thought leader/critic/blog writer just not like it?

Jill Dolan does a nice job of making the case for the positive in a recent essay “Critical Generosity”:

The deleterious effects of criticism are underscored by mainstream writers such as
Ben Brantley and Charles Isherwood in the New York Times, who revel in their
power to destroy productions they don't like for reasons that are always political, as
well as aesthetic, and always masked by the “objectivity” that power bestows on
their work.

Against such entrenched practices and stereotypes, critical generosity stands as a
refreshing and, I hope, principled alternative.

Back to the egomania of my number three. The singular desire to destroy or lift up, depending on your mood—this seems more pernicious to me than critical generosity.

This brings me to number four on the list:

4. Let’s pick our battles more wisely this year. There are pernicious things happening in our field. The work on our stages actually getting produced is rarely political enough to fit into the category of pernicious. More pernicious it seems to me are the questions of diversity and ethics that continue to plague our business. Are we selling tickets or are we contributing to the betterment of civilization? Are we propping up institutions or creating accessible and transformative art? Let’s tell the truth about these issues and let’s cause some controversy where the stakes are high.

5. Let’s find ways to come together more often in three dimensions as a community in dialogue. We all argue that the intimacy and value of theater is a result of its three dimensionality. My diet will include more coffees this year, more effort to attend conversations in person, and more phone/Skype conversations in lieu of email and social media drive-bys.

I wish for all of you in 2014 that you feel the energy and warmth of Abbondonza! And for those of you who pass through Boston, let’s break bread over some gravy and meatballs, or at least share a cappuccino! Happy New Year from HowlRound!

And me, Larry Stark, again:

I'd like to add this paragraph of mine to the flames:

But the existence, side by side at the same time, of so many unique audiences for stuff done live on stage suggests that perhaps Some audience fluidity might take place if only people knew how much theatre there is available. And the existence of unique audiences suggests a new approach to criticism. I mean, instead of determining how far from (or close to) possible perfection a production of a play comes, perhaps it would be much more useful if the critics asked instead "What sort of audience ought to see this play?"
It's worth a try, isn't it?

"VANYA redux"

Tuesday, 23 October '12

This is a sort of "open letter" to my fellow reviewers:

Last Sunday, I went back to Chelsea to see the Apollinaire Theatre Company's production of "Uncle Vanya" because Jack Schultz, playing Professor Serebriakov, and Kate Paulsen playing Elena, and Diego Arciniegas playing Vanya himself --- all three were new to the production. And what I found was that these were not likealook puppets plugged into a same-old show; instead they siginficantly changed the show. And I also found that, given a lengthy life with the play and the changes in personnel, the entire cast was different, deeper, better.

The "Uncle Vanya" you can see, Should see across the Mystic River, is an even better show than it was with Johnny Kuntz that at the end of the last season put Chelsea on our theatrical map. If you missed the show then, I urge you to see it now. And even if, as I did, you saw the Apollinaire production then, I urge you to see what time and a few changes has done to improve the show.

There's a bus, leaving Haymarket Station every ten minutes or so, that will let you off (Tell the driver you want to get off at "The Police Station") about three short blocks from The Chelsea Theatre Center, to see a movingly complete and inventive production of this classic play.

There's no reason not to any more!

===That Fat Old Man with The Cane

Larry Stark [larry@theatermirror.com]

"Don't Blink!"

Sunday, 1 July '12

When I was waiting in front of the Huntington Theatre for the opening of "Private Lives" I met Paula Plum (who didn't come on till the final act), and when I said I was eager to see her on Boston's biggest non-Broadway stage she said, smiling, "Don't Blink!" And truth to tell, I was disappointed to see what I referred to as "the token Bostonian in that cast" --- a woman of incredible talent and experience --- given a mere third-act walk-on as a Parisian maid with no English. But last week I learned that Paula will be directing "Romeo And Juliet," the next show by the Happy Medium Theatre. Those two ideas have been spinning about my head in this, one of the few weeks of nearly no theatrical openings in a busy year. So indulge me a few musings and speculations that have boiled to the top of my mind.

Firstly, on thinking back on it, I am disappointed that Peter DuBois, the Huntington's Artistic Director, allowed Maria Aitken, who directed the production, to waste such a great opportunity. Musing on that casting decision this afternoon, I found myself in a sort of Tom Garvey moment considering what I might have done in that situation. As I'd have directed that scene, Paula would have come onstage, silently surveyed the chaos and carnage left by the two battling "English", taking full-focus for a full beat or three --- and then whipped off the Gaulic dismissal of their gaucherie as it were over a shoulder. Those in the audience who knew her would feel the slight subtext criticism of the entire non-Boston cast while the half of them were sniggering at what they knew of the translation of the French, and all Paula's experience and expertise and Bostonian track-record and sheer Presence would have been used, instead of squandered.
Yes, Monday-morning quarterbacking --- but I'd love to see those dozen lines from the maid re-played, to the full, by this expert.

Not important.
But I really do wonder if Boston's biggest play-house isn't doing their city a disservice by reaching for nationally-known or New York-known household-names as "stars" that can attract enough audience to pay most of their bills --- audiences that can see not the performances, but merely the Names. (Commonwealth Shakespeare Company does the same --- but I think their best production was last year's "All's Well That Ends Well" with Karen MacDonald and Will Lebow making it an Ensemble not a star-turn on stage.) People who have made their money and their reputations on the screen and on the tube often find themselves bewildered by the necessities of Stage-acting; something they had in their summer-stock days seems to atrophy after all those years under camera-lighting and close-in microphones.

Then again, I worry that most of Boston's best resident actors are rarely given the chance to fill a house With A Balcony with their performing talents. I see a lot of lovely work in small houses, and sometimes I catch actors speaking so intimately To Each Other that even in the first row I can't hear what they're saying. (That's what I call "television acting" --- i.e., speaking so intimately to each other that only the gaffer's microphone can pick it up). Despite the joys of working at The Factory or the BCA or the BPT, some actors never learn that they're NOT alone, so some technical attention ought to be paid to the ears of the people paying admission.

Of course, since my ears are aproaching their 80th birthday, maybe it's my fault after all.

Needless to say, I'm already eager to see Paula Plum's direction of R&J --- not for the A.S.P., which would be expected, but for one of the outstanding "fringies" with a stunning track-record and company loyalties. In a sense, I really hope her name on the markee will force the "professional" critical brotherhood of Boston (i.e., those paid by newspapers and naming the Norton Award nominees) to take The Happy Medium Theatre as seriously as anything in "the theatre district" --- much the way John Kuntz forced them to cross the river into Chelsea when he did Vanya at The Apollinaire.
Theater, especially Good Theatre, deserves serious attention wherever it bubbles into being and without regard to its production- or p/r-budgets.

Finally, I'm encouraged that Paula has chosen to direct a play with such a small local company for the Educational value of the venture alone. Paula Plum is a treasure-house of theatrical life and experience, and this can give her a chance to spread it around among younger actors who need the contact with someone still at the height of her power. She has always been brave enough to try something new --- willing to do "Wit" out in Chestnut Hill, and to join A.S.P. after working at A.R.T., and to join in a sadly unsuccessful attempt to bring Radio Theater to N.P.R. --- and I envy the "kids" who will get the chance to work with her.

I remember her dunking her tea-bags one-two-three ritual times as a prissily vicious librarian in John Kuntz "Miss Price"; before that in two sets of them ("Plum Pudding" was one umbrella title I remember) she created Textbooks on The Monologue --- and I learned my own craft by trying to do justice to them in my reviews; I Loved her Cleopatra (and hated the reviewers who sniffed or sneered at it); I wish she and Richard Snee could work together more (I wonder what would happen to the show if they did a month of "Shear Madness" together!); and I can't wait for her Happy Medium "R&J"!

And now, after nearly a week of Reading Books, I expect I'll soon be back Seeing theater instead of merely Writing about it.
Break a leg ALL!
===That Fat Old Man with The Cane

Larry Stark [larry@theatermirror.com]

Michael avellar [spencertracy24@hotmail.com]

Dear mr larry stark. I know that there was you or a representive of theater mirror at the last days of judas iscariot by wax wings productions. As hard as the company tried we could not get any press there. I wonder way youre publication bothered to print no review. Giving us no posterity good or bad

From: Michael avellar
Sent: Sunday, April 01, 2012 7:38 AM
To: larrystark@theatermirror.com

I'm sorry. I certainly didn't mean any insult. You are a very busy man and just having you come is worth any review. I hope you keep us in mind in your voting for awards. You do a great job. And deadbeat and you just doesn't go together. Sorry to be a bother.

FROM;,BR. Wax Wings [waxwingsproductions@gmail.com]

Dear Mr. Stark,
I like to thank you again for attending our show and for placing a notification on your website for our show, The Last Days of Judas Iscariot.

It has been brought to my attention that one of my actors has written to you, without my awareness, about receiving a review from you.

As I stated our company had no awareness of this actors actions and if we had known would have asked him to refrain from reaching out.

As I can try and imagine where you are coming from I found your posting on your site a shock and a bit offensive. I truly feel that your posting is, in a way, casting our company in a negative light by not only posting this actors email and name AND email address, but by the title itself "deadbeat blues". We are a new company, and have worked very hard on our first production and have received many compliments and reviews asking us to continue with our work in the theatrical community in Boston.

Id truly appreciate if you could take down this post. I understand it is your website and you are free to do with it as you will, but I strongly feel it is casting our company in a negative light, through unknown actions by an actor in the cast.

I appreciate your discretion and thank you again for attending our show.

Christopher Cohen
Artistic Director
Wax Wings Productions

Sent from my iPhone


These exchanges are over a CRICKET'S NOTEBOOK entry of mine ("The Deadbeat Blues") which was as emotionally charged and regrettable as anything here --- but the problems talked about are very real.

There are new theatrical companies springing up like grass, often with p/r people unfamiliar with Boston's quirks. And every company --- every Production --- is necessarily The Only Show In Town for the people bringing it into being. And every show needs and expects an Audience, and really deserves some kind of critical notice. And it is genuinely insulting to be ignored by "The Press" when genuine sweat and hard emotional work goes into ANY theatrical endeavor. Of course the actors get pissed.

But, even though the Internet has added several new reviewers recently, it's impossible for any of them to see Everything; it's even less possible for All Of Them to see everything; and some harsh realities and some mere human problems ought to be addressed.

I don't know how often I get notes saying:
"Hi. We're a new company doing a Great play, and you review plays. We open tomorrow night, and we expect you to come. Free Tickets!"

I do what I can --- every reviewer does --- but schedules are finalized many days, weeks even, in advance. It's really unfair to expect attention on such short notice; especially when there are So MANY Shows and so little time to see them. The reviewers who try do indeed feel over-worked and under-appreciated --- most of them these days are not paid to review anymore, and some of them have day-jobs and/or families to think about.

Contrariwise, most serious actors have day-jobs and/or families to think about as well, and are poorly paid, if at all. THEY're doing it for love too.

So nerves get a little raw on both sides, because the emotional commitment to live theater is the real motor --- and, bottom-line: theater is made out of People.

But, remember: reviewers are people too.

Break a leg all!
===Anon. (a k a larry stark)


But live theater will never die...

On page 1 of today's (4 Jan. '09) Sunday New York TIMES, Charles Isherwood noted that "more than a dozen plays and musicals --- almost half of the current lineup, incredible though it may seem --- [are getting] ready to close by the end of the month. ... On Sunday alone [9 shows will close]. It is haunting to think that there could be more shows closing on that day than there will be running on Broadway by the time the Tonys roll around in June.

"(Not all the closings can be chalked up exclusively to the gloomy economy; some were limited runs, and some are long-running hits thatm were approaching their ends anyway.)

"It is worth underscoring that ... Theatergoers who go out of their way to take in the last gasp of a Broadway show are not jackals reveling in ill fortune. You would have to be perversely malicious to plunk down more than $100 a ticket just for the pleasure of watching a production you didn't like bite the dust. No, the audiences flocking to final performances are often friends and family involved with the cast and creative team, along with rabid fans who have seen the show at least once, in some cases dozens of times. ...

"Joyous or galvanizing though the experience might be, it's also undeniable that the undertow of sadness at these closings will be unusually strong this year. To love the theater is to admire from a distance the people who devote their lives to making it --- always against tough odds.

"This year, as you watch the lights dim on a performance that has meant something to you, that has made something happen in your heart or your head, you may see the real human being through the mask of the fictional characters a little more vividly. The chorus kid with the megawatt smile, the all-but-legendary musical diva with a devoted following, the up-and-coming young leading man --- when the curtain falls they will all return to being actors anxiously awaiting their next engagement, at a scarily perilous time for everybody. So keep clapping, please, and a "Bravo" or two would surely be appreciated."
===Charles Isherwood

Spot News!


(Beverly, MA) – The not-for-profit North Shore Music Theatre (NSMT), faced with reality of the current economic crisis, announced today that without immediate philanthropic support it will close its doors after 55 years of providing performing arts and educational programming to millions. The Theatre’s leadership is urging the public to show its support by purchasing tickets to the remaining 13 performances of Disney High School Musical 2, which runs through January 11th. Additionally, philanthropic gifts can be made via the Theatre’s secure website at www.NSMT.org" or through the Box Office at 978-232-7200.


by Larry Stark

I came to Cambridge (from New Bruswick, New Jersey) in January of 1957 and began seeing plays. I don't intend to stop. But maybe I should take a glassy stare backward and try to paint a portrait, through time, of what I have noticed of trends and happenings here that have brought us to today. On stage it is always "Now!" --- but sometimes history becomes a part of "Now" as well. I hope I can make that happen for you, as it often does for me.

Theater in Boston, like the city itself, exists in layers that pretty much ignore each other. The Factory Theatre and The Colonial Theatre are alike only in the fact that they are both a block from Tremont Street in the same city. But theater happens there. The people who see plays in one may never set foot in the other, or check out the over ninety other companies who do plays here every year; still, the spectrum of shows changes subtly from place to place and group to group yet it makes a rich sort of rainbow which --- since I try to see things everywhere --- I think of as The Boston Theater Scene. Let's take a good, long look at it. It's become my world, and I love it. I love it all!


About 1950 I went from my home in East Brunswick to New York to see, first, the closing night of "GUYS AND DOLLS" and then a play about Joan of Arc called "THE LARK". In 1952 I was drafted, spent 18 Days in the Army before rejected as an asthmatic, and missed a semester of college (Night School @ Rutgers University College), so I got a job coiling telephone-wire --- and spent the money seeing plays and ballets an hour away by the Pennsylvania Railroad. So after graduating (A.B. in English 1956) and taking one semester at Rutgers Graduate School of Library Service, I ripped myself out of a disfunctional family and took the first available alternative --- a bed with sci-fi fans in Cambridge. Later I said "I came to major in Extra-Curricular Activities and to grow up." Some day, perhaps, I'll make good on the latter.

I sold books --- at Harvard Bookstore, at a Barnes & Noble store on what's now JFK Street that closed, and at a Paperback Booksmith opposite The Brattle Moviehouse --- I lived with friends in what could be called a "commune" and then alone in a apartment literally between my Booksmith job and Loeb Drama Center; I worked shows at Loeb and other local theatres for five years, made a lot of good friends, and learned how people make theater by watching it happen backstage.

But, early on, I started once more seeing plays. Lots, and lots and lots of plays.

Y'see, in the middle '50s Boston really was a Theater City --- and Broadway really Was "in Boston." It was ten years of explosive affluence after the Second World War, and Boston had been one of a series of "try-out towns" in which new productions could as it were test-market every line and move and song and detail of a new show against a live audience --- an audience generously sprinkled with young faces because Boston was a big college-town and, much more importantly, students could Afford To Buy Tickets. Even I, a young entrance-level book-pusher, could buy tickets, and I did.

There were three big two- and three-story try-out theatres down in what is still called The Theatre District, and every two or three weeks every one of those theatres got a new show --- mostly new shows, but occasionally a touring production of a show that had been a hit for a year or two on Broadway came back through Boston. I heard that in those middle '50s, if you had a new show, you had to reserve two weeks in one of those theatres A Full Year In Advance --- there was that much new work elbowing its way through town toward success.

The Shubert organization, which owned theatres in most major cities in America, owned and operated a Shubert Theatre here in Boston; the JuJamCyn organization owned and ran The Colonial and Ye Wilbur Theatre --- and all three were busy booking in "product" --- a word that became vogue only when faceless corporations took over the operation. The producers of each individual show may have lost money, but the people renting them their real-estate were indeed successful.

At the time, I got the impression that shows that were either too bad, or too good to fill the huge Colonial Theatre played in Ye Wilbur, while shows that had some prestige or needed some technical expertise opted for the Shubert. (At the Shubert I saw Rod Steiger imitate Orson Welles in a version of "MOBY DICK" that tore out the curtain, and put suggestions of sails up against the brick back wall of the stage. For a production of "ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEST" they built a revolve for one major scene. (Oh, and McMurphy was played by an ageing but still athletic Kirk Douglas.) In any case, as on many of the layers of theater here, there were two rival groups fighting for audience dollars. More about that as we go along.

What happened?

Well, two things turned out to be prophetic. First, a production of "YOU'RE A GOOD MAN, CHARLIE BROWN" came back to Boston not for a two-week run kicking off their national tour, but for an open-ended run in Ye Wilbur --- which, I'm told, set a record for longest run in a Boston Broadway house which remains unbroken. (Two years.) And then the censorship court-cases surrounding a Boston production of "HAIR!" kept the Wilbur open but actually dark while the company waited for a decision --- three months --- after which it ran about 18 months.

In each case, the result was that the number of houses here available for try-outs was cut from three to two. And producers got a glimpse of an idea: instead of feeding the audience with dozens of new plays throughout the year, why not concentrate on a few guaranteed blockbusters with longer open-end runs? "THE BOYS IN THE BAND" (9 months) and then "GODSPELL" (two years) opened, open-ended, at Ye Wilbur. I don't know if the flood of try-outs began to dry up as a cause or as an effect, but Broadway in Boston began, literally, to die. Theatres ended up dark rather than occupied for longer and longer. I think The Colonial remained empty for almost a whole year at one point.

I have no idea about the chicken/egg problem here, but inflation and stag-flation and rising costs and union salaries had something to do with it. The excellent Boston manager of JuJamCyn suddenly announced that he was going to Washington to manage the new Kennedy Center. "Mr Schwartz" who ran JuJamCyn from New York died, and his two Boston theatres have been sold and re-sold and re-re-re-sold to a series of bean-counting bottom-line corporations who know a lot about money but nothing whatever about theater.

Along the way, the huge '30s movie-house across from the Shubert turned itself into a play-house with a stage almost big enough for The Boston Ballet and not only declared itself a non-profit cultural institution but secured a lengthy rental of The Shubert across the street. The Wang Theatre tried for a while to compete with JuJamCyn for the thinning pool of "product" --- usually touring shows of proven Broadway standards like "PHANTOM OF THE OPERA" "GODSPELL" "JOSEPH AND THE AMAZING TECHNICOLOR DREAMCOAT" "ANNIE" OR "CHICAGO", or open-ended Boston productions of those same big-name musicals. Jujamcyn countered by re-furbishing and re-opening The Opera House --- and, effectively closing down Ye Wilbur Theatre.

The result of all this has been that the only people who believe they can afford to see a Broadway play are my age. They had been the vibrant young generation who eagerly awaited new plays from Inge and Williams and Arthur Miller and then Tom Stoppard, new musicals by Rodgers & Hammerstein or directed by Bob Fosse; they watched a contest pitting Andrew Lloyd Webber against Stephen Sondheim, and these days they take their grandchildren in from the suburbs to have that experience of big live theater they can remember from the days when they were young. It really isn't that experience any more, and the kids don't seem to be infected by the theater bug. Broadway in Boston --- Broadway itself, truth were known --- has managed over these last fifty years to piss away to best, most intelligent, most eager young audience for live plays anywhere.

I mean, do YOU know what wonders are to be offered to the Boston theater-going audience in those big barns downtown in The Theater District this season? If people who love theater enough to read The Theater Mirror can't work up enthusiasm for a revival of "BRIGADOON" or "A CHORUS LINE" why should an Emerson freshman care at all?

What a waste. What a tragic, unforgiveable waste!

But, thank Thespis, no matter what producers thought down in The Apple, even in 1957 Broadway was not the only theater in Boston --- and it isn't now, either.

Around 1960 as I was coming north, Brandeis University was building the three-space Spingold Theatre Complex on the campus just outside Waltham. At that time, a famous English theater person toured America intending to found a new professional "regional" company. He was taken over to Spingold and offered the building as the home of that new theater company. He said thank you but no thanks, saying it was too close to New York City for it to do any good. The man was Tyrone Guthrie, and he built his new theatre in Minneapolis.]


Again some things I realized only much later, but just about the time I got here a new theatre company was just starting up. They built a tiny playing-space on the second floor over a coffee-house on Charles Street and ran for a season. Then two people joined their effort. One was a lawyer named Frank Shugrue who was their producer and the other, up from New York, was their artistic director Michael Murray. Together, for several golden years they gave Boston theater to be proud of. The company moved into an abandoned synagog on a little alley behind the Shubert Theatre but as they moved into The Theatre District they took their old name with them: The Charles Playhouse.

It was always too small to be profitable, and tales of how the company squeeked by are legendary, but dancing on their precarious shoestring Michael Murray gave the city solidly exciting productions of classics and modern classics: "THE INSPECTOR GENERAL" "THE ICEMAN COMETH" "HAMLET" "THE DRUNKARD" Bertolt Brecht's "GALILEO" "THE THREE-PENNY OPERA" "THE BASIC TRAINING OF PAVLO HUMMEL" "DUTCHMAN" --- and he did several plays by Jean Anouilh ( "POOR BITOS" "THE REHEARSAL") that I would love to see again.

The Eisenhower years had been a series of wage/price spirals in which first workers then management earned spendable income, but when the system managed to afford a social conscience one debt to society was paid by the National Endowment for The Arts, and one thing their federal grants did was to encourage theater-makers in major cities acrosss the country to get matching-grants to turn themselves into "Regional Theatres". The Charles was one of them. Cushioned by these grants, and by donations from a local philanthropist, they blundered on doing shows every four or five weeks --- until the federal funding dried up, and the philanthropist found it necessary to spend her money backing politicians. Today I think Frank Shugrue owns the theatre building, but what's happening inside it are two of the longest-running shows in Boston history "SHEAR MADNESS" and "BLUE MAN GROUP" --- which, though fascinating institutions, are no substitute for Michael Murray's magic.

But remember I said Boston theater often works in pairs, and there was during those same golden years another company that eventually turned federal funding into great shows: The Theatre Company of Boston --- which was unlike The Charles in many ways. First, except for a few of the federally funded Regional Theatre years in a play-space in the cellar of the former Hotel Touraine at 62 Boylston Street, they never really had a home. They never had a hard-nosed permanent producer-figure either. But they always had as artistic director David Wheeler.

Rather than classics, Wheeler had an affinity for contemporary playwrights and the Theater of The Absurd. I saw his production of Pinter's "THE CARETAKER" in which a young Dustin Hoffman played a character as old as that actor actually IS Today. He did tons of Samuel Beckett, Gertrude Stein's "YES IS FOR A VERY YOUNG MAN" Albee's "TINY ALICE" John Arden's "ARMSTRONG'S LAST GOOD NIGHT" Robert Lowell'S "BENITO CERRENO" "THE PERSECUTION AND ASSASSINATION OF JEAN-PAUL MARAT AS PERFORMED BY THE INMATES OF THE ASYLUM OF CHARENTON UNDER THE DIRECTION OF THE MARQUIS DE SADE" several anti-Vietnam plays, John Hawkes' "THE INNOCENT PARTY" and Arthur Miller's "AFTER THE FALL". He always seemed poised ready to pounce on the rights for any good OFF-Broadway play the moment it closed and they became available.

These two landmark companies, so different from one another, nevertheless set a standard and established the model. While working, they were never appreciated by reviewers --- who were still under the spell of Broadway --- and both of them failed because theater cost more to make than their small seating capacities or advertising budgets could afford. But Michael Murray and David Wheeler persisted in stubbornly giving Boston good theater, and after them other companies appeared that tried to solve the problems that made The Charles and TCB fail. As a matter of fact, today Boston has two Regional Theatres that are larger, better-funded, and more respected than those two ever were.


I don't know if the decline of both the Broadway visitors and of Boston's two "regional" companies triggered thinking in the local academic world, and I'm a little vague on dates and times, but about that time two universities stepped in to try to fill the artistic vacuum.

Okay, three universities.

Around 1970 down in New Haven Connecticut, the theater critic Robert Brustein was a force in the founding of The Yale Repertory Theatre. Again, I know no details, but ambitions were high and association with the university's Theater School were close. The aim was a high-quality Equity company doing exciting seasons of new plays and new interpretations of older ones. There was even a hint that if new works were good enough, they could tranfer to Broadway houses, saving investors the costs of out-of-town try-outs and injecting into what had become Musical City the exciting new straight-plays that had all but disappeared on that level.

When these ambitions became known, newspaper critics from New York began floating up to New Haven like the sharks in "The Old Man And The Sea" and the New Haven seasons turned quite tempestuous --- so much so that in something like 1980 Yale Rep pulled out of their converted-church and headed north, where Harvard University had invited them to live and work in the Loeb Drama Center on Brattle Street in Cambridge. They settled in, re-christened themselves the American Repertory Theatre, and have been a highly successful major bulwark in the Boston theater scene ever since.

Again my view of history is hazy, but Boston University's theater school decided around that time to found an Equity company that could fill their own two-story building on Huntington Avenue half a block from Symphony Hall with solidily produced seasons. Initially they leaned heavily on the classics, with a Shakespeare every year, and faculty members often directed. Directors and designers kept a lot of the action downstage on this wide playing space, and most of their casts were hired not for single plays but for the entire season --- The Huntington Theatre Company, in essence, did stock.

To my view, though each one is a grant-magnet and they certainly qualify as nationally known regional institutions, neither of these huge and hugely successful Boston institutions has ever been a BOSTON theatre.

The Huntington has rarely cast local actors in major roles; instead they draw on the regional pool, with a lot of "At Huntington: debut" notes in their bio's, and they sometimes cast "name" stars from Broadway or from television. This may be necessary because of the technical demands of working in essentially a Broadway-sized house; nonetheless this ceiling deprives Boston's best professional actors of the opportunity to grow technically, to handle big roles, and to star in major productions in their home town. Again, in more recent years --- particularly during the seasons helmed by Artistic Director Nicholas Martin --- the Huntington has often done "cooperative productions" in which the entire show has transferred here from another regional company elsewhere in the country. And the Huntington has also fallen prey to the dream of sending shows down to the Apple for second runs in Broadway houses. Until now --- and the company now has a new Artistic Director --- I've thought of Huntington productions as "in but not of" Boston. They're almost as much visitors here as are the money-machine shows down in the Theatre District's big barns.

That feeling is even stronger across the Charles. The A.R.T.'s core company has lived and worked here for years and some were founding members, but they rarely fraternize with the indigeni. Except for the sainted David Wheeler, they trawl Europe for directors who put on the stage little but their own inflated egos no matter what plays they are supposedly working with --- in particular, insultingly assinine interpretations of Shakespeare that rarely add anything but bombast to the text. Seen in the best light, the A.R.T. could be called a "theatrical laboratory" in which even the most outlandishly silly concepts can be experimented upon, because most of their most famous imported directors are never allowed to see the work as failed. Most of their experiments have been bewilderingly opaque and have had no relation whatever to whether the audience learns anything from watching some "arteest" masturbate publically. The Loeb Drama Center --- where I spent many happy years working backstage before these Sothron carpetbaggers came to town --- has looked to me like the Kennedy Compound out in Hyannis, where locals can watch helicopters fly Important People in to do Something Important, nationally or internationally, but who the hell knows what?

At bottom, I think both these theatres suffer from a surfeit of cash. The A.R.T. in particular tends to do amazing things merely because they can afford them. In comparison to any other company in Boston, they have more money than God, and I have often thought they feel they must spend it, or people won't give them any more.


Remember I said The Charles Playhouse spent its first season in a second-floor walk-up over a coffeehouse? Well, the play-space endured. About the middle '60s --- just as I was learning to review plays --- a company called The Image Theatre did two very interesting seasons there. Then, around the beginning of the '70s two people named Ron Ritchell and Polly Hogan lit the place again and for the next decade they lived the most glorious success-story that Boston theater has to offer.

The place was tiny. It seated about sixty, on two sides of a teacup playing area. Entrances were through the door where the audience had entered from the hall; if anyone had to enter from the other side, they had to come in, in black, before the action started. It could not make any money; in fact, Ron & Polly probably paid no one and kept the place alive with their own money or inheritances. But people worked there because they loved theater, and The Lyric Stage endured --- and prospered artistically. Most actors of an age here in Boston --- and many more who've gone on to other things --- have fond memories of that second-floor teacup on Charles Street.

But the story gets better. Again I don't know details because while it was happening I was self-exiled in Iowa, but this pair of courageous theater devotees decided they must grow, and along about 1980 The Lyric Stage moved. They had built and opened the first new theater here in years, maybe in decades. It is a three-quarter-thrust space seating --- what, 300? --- and it happens to be on the second floor of a YWCA building across the street from the glass miracle of the Hancock Tower in Copley Square. It was a testament to the power of theater here in Boston, and to a love of theater in the two people who brought it about.

I wish the story ended there. I point of fact, Ron and Polly did not grow with their theatre. They were and I'm sure still are brilliant makers of plays but not theater managers. They offered people the same eclectic fare in the new space that made the old one sing, but couldn't always fill all those new seats. Their decisions appeared arbitrary but their control complete, and they may not have been capable of delegating real authority. Their Board became increasingly apprehensive. I'm told things came to a head when, without consulting others, they decided to refuse tickets to a critic from the Boston GLOBE because of his mis-use of that paper's power to break or make productions. It was less the justifiability but the independence of their action that rankled. The Board asked the Producing Artistic Director of another company to come on board, and told Ron & Polly that if he refused they would look elsewhere. The makers of a theatrical miracle found themselves thrown out of their new theater. But they were survivors, and tried to take their name out to a school auditorium in Chestnut Hill to keep it alive. When that also failed, bitter and hurt, they retired to Canada --- and the landmark theatre their love had built has yet to place on its lobby walls any testament to their courage and hard work.

But what is now called The Lyric Stage of Boston Inc. is not the only "mid-size theatre" success story here.

One is suburban. I would have to research its beginnings, but in 1994 when I began The Theater Mirror I heard that a company initially called The Newton Repertory Company had completed a search for a new Producing Artistic Director to replace its founder after some ten or so years. This was Rick Lombardo, who had founded a company in New York, and then headed a larger one for some time in (I think) Ohio, but who "wanted to test himself against an intelligent theater audience in the East." Running The New Rep gave him that chance.

The company he took over worked in a shallow-thrust space in a church three blocks from the Newton Highlands stop on the T's Green Line. Over the next few years, Lombardo learned to play this space like a violin. He did consistently exciting plays, and then musicals --- "A MOON FOR THE MISBEGOTTEN" "TARTUFFE" "APPROACHING MUUMTAJ" "SWEENY TODD, THE DEMON BARBER OF FLEET STREET" "MOBY DICK" --- that seemed to burst out of that little auditorium into the mind. But as The Rep's reputation grew, the company began to outgrow its space. Again, available seating could not pay for a staff large enough to do all the necessary work. Only a few years ago, The New Rep helped turn a building in what had been the Watertown Arsenal into The Arsenal Arts Center --- it has a big, modern stage fronting a wide, high-risered audience with no permanent proscenium-arch separating people from the action, and under it is a totally flexible little black-box. Several groups doing several arts use other spaces in the building, and the walls are alive with an ever-changing display of paintings, photographs or quilts. But, like his company, Lombardo is moving on. He's announced a search for his own replacement and, though I hope he returns often, he will soon re-locate in California where yet another theatre needs him.

In the meantime, though, over on Tremont Street South at the Boston Center for The Arts, another relatively new space has allowed a third company to grow into "mid-sized" prominence. The SpeakEasy Stage Company started out as one of three gay-theater companies (with the Triangle Theatre and the lesbian-oriented Threshold Theatre), though it's the only one to survive --- and it has grown away from its roots into a major theatrical force in the city.

Their rise can be told in a list of triumphant productions: McNally's "LIPS TOGETHER, TEETH APART" & "LOVE! VALOUR! COMPASSION!" (the latter done in The Lyric Stage's space) John Kuntz in "SANTALAND DIARIES" and as new residents in the BCA's Plaza space "A NEW BRAIN" & "THE DYING GAUL" "FLOYD COLLINS" the held-over triumph "BAT-BOY" and "A CLASS ACT" and "A MAN OF NO IMPORTANCE" --- and then in the new high-risered Roberts Studio at the BCA "COMPANY" "TAKE ME OUT" "KISS OF THE SPIDER WOMAN" "PARADE" and, directed by Scott Edmiston, both "FIVE BY TENN" and "THE WOMEN". Paul Daigneault has been Artistic Director and mainstay of this continually interesting, still growing company, and its awards and reputation have made it yet a third major resident "regional" theatre here in Boston.

And two other contenders are warming up at the BCA: The Boston Theatre Works, and Zeitgeist Stage.


Federal funding for the arts figured prominently in the "Regional Theatres" movement --- spawning hopes at some points, dashing them at others. The darkest days of this came when Religious Right Republicans spearheaded their fiscal conservatism with an attack against funding the "Piss Christ" artist's ham-handed conceptual-art attempts to make people think, and pilloried the National Endowments for The Arts and for The Humanities as a waste of public money. There has never been in America (or should I say in the U.S. OF A., since Canada offers an incredibly contrasting example) the public-funding attention to the arts (and the theatrical arts in particular) that make London a mecca for American theater-lovers and tourists.

But government has gotten involved in the arts here in Boston, in small and intriguing ways. Probably the best example of this has been the cooperation of several institutions in the creation and preservation of The Publick Theatre in Herter Park, on the banks of the Charles River along ... is it Memorial Drive or Soldiers Field Road? --- the origins of which are amazing.

When both the Lincoln Center Complex and Joe Papp's Public Theatre blossomed down in The Apple, people here began big plans: A big new theatre was to be the centerpiece, flanked by a new hotel, and an ambitious building to house the Institute of Contemporary Arts --- a lengthy, expensive public project of vision, imagination, and hope. The kick-off was around 1957, when I had just arrived in Cambridge.

Temporary quarters were thrown up at the site. The ICA built a big long box with several display-spaces inside. (I saw my first "Cubi" sculptures by David Smith in gleaming steel out there, and three band-saw/jigsaw wood abstractions called "Shadrach" "Meshak" and "Fred".) But I was most interested in a temporary theatre-space, with folding-chairs set out on a wide round asphalt dish facing a high stage-house. The space was topped by an inflated canvas donut-affair hung from four pylons, and just for decoration they dug a moat around theatre-hill full of river-water, and built a dock to which boatloads of tourists could sail up the Charles from Boston.

One night there, I saw Jason Robards Jr. and Siobhan McKenna do The Scottish Play and, in the final duel MacDuff's broadsword snapped off at the hilt, and he had to do Macbeth in with a pocket-knife. Another night had John Geilgud and company in the last moments of a Shakespeare totally drowned out by the drumming of a rainshower on that inflated canvas donut that kept everyone dry. Afternoons I came up to see a series of dance events --- Jose Limon's stunning gloss on Othello "The Moor's Pavane" and a set of dances by Carmen DeLavalade with one, set to three Billie Holliday songs, that I will never forget.

But it all went suddenly smash, and much later I learned why: the architect stole all the funding and took it to an island in the Bahamas with no extradition. End of dream.

Well, not quite.

The dream may have gone, the stage-house may have been burned by vandals, but that round asphalt dish remained. Eventually someone --- I will research his name --- put together a lot of cooperations between the city and the Metropolitan District Commission and Herter Park to put seats back in the dish and actors back on the stage, and The Publick Theatre started giving FREE performances of Shakespeare out there under the stars every summer. It's still there.

It MAY still be there.

Government involvement in the arts is not a guarantee of anything. For years state and local Arts Funding councils underwrote The Publick and then, a few years ago, cut the funding. Unwilling to go under, The Publick reluctantly started charging money, and recently they have begun giving performances of plays in the winter at the BCA to publicize their work and, frankly, to make a little money if possible. The dream endures.

In my opinion, the abject poverty of The Publick Theatre is a tragic embarrassment for The Massachusetts Cultural Council and any and every government institution that could help rather than squash this landmark local institution. The money they need is piddling small compared to bigger boondoggles and the artistic rewards, to the makers and their audiences, are incalcuable.

One of the rewards that has enriched Boston happens to be the director who took over The Publick after its founder retired: Spiro Veloudos. This kid out of Emerson College spent countless summers on the banks of the Charles making plays, until he was asked to become Producing Artistic Director of The Lyric Stage. He headed both until the strain became difficult and only a few years ago handed The Publick on to Diego Arciniegas (pound for pound a contender in my mind for Best Actor in Boston). Spiro has become an annually-award-winning gift to the cultural and artistic world of Boston, whose company and whose work I always anticipate and remember with awe and excitement. And I think he learned how to become himself all those summers with The Publick Theatre.

In 1970, as I was preparing to marry my second excellent editor at BOSTON AFTER DARK, people were discussing a book of studies and practical advice about how the position of The Arts in society could be improved. Soon the result of the discussion was rolled into a proposal for a Center for The Arts here in Boston. I was never inside that movement, but its sparkplug was a tall man with the unlikely name Royal Cloyd. Last year (I think it was) at a celebration of that project, I had the opportunity to shake Mr. Cloyd's hand and tell him "When this was proposed, I was convinced it would never work --- and I am damn glad to say I was wrong!"

The Boston Center for The Arts took over a collection of buildings in half a block at 527 - 551 Tremont Street which included the huge round Cyclorama Building (built originally to house a diorama presentation of the Battle of Gettysburg, but used up till then as Boston's commercial flower market) and an abandoned local movie-house. The project built and offered studio-space for artists and office and rehearsal spaces for theater makers, an art gallery (The Mills Gallery), a music center, and three theater playing-spaces. Two were side by side around a common lobby area: the Plaza, an oddly-shaped three-quarter-thrust with rows wrapped around it (seating ???), and right next to it a Black Box with moveable riser-sections. In the building next door to the left was The Leland Center --- a little brick box with three short rows of folding-chairs on risers that perched uneasily on an uneven brick floor. (The Leland was gutted not long ago to make room for a loud-jazz expensive restaurant called The Beehive which every evening has a long line of hopeful patrons outside waiting for tables.) On the corner of Tremont and Dartmouth is another restaurant (Hammersley's) with the Mills between that and the theater complex, then The Cyclorama which is used for a variety of purposes and productions.

The movie-house was razed a few years ago to make way for a two-and-a-half theater complex built by the Huntington Theatre Company they call The Calderwood Pavilion --- housed in a high-rise condo complex with a parking-garage attached. Inside is The Wimberly --- a proscenium-house with a small balcony --- and The Roberts Studio, a wall of high-risered seats facing a wide playing-space. Off the second-floor is a dance-studio/rehersal-room where the risers from the old Leland Center sit (solidly, without that uneven rickety floor) ready for small, small-budget companies to use any way they see fit.

Early on the BCA decided it would be nothing but a Landlord for the artists and companies needing low-rent space. Even now the BCA staff is almost invisible. The only evidence of their existence is that all tickets must be purchased in the Wimberly complex lobby, where ticket-staff are paid from a flat-rate charge ( $7.00 ???) added to every ticket.

In the BCA's early years, I went there to review what was publicized as an off-Broadway try-out mini-musical called "THE COUNT OF FIRE ISLAND" which pretended that Dracula was queer. There was a scene of scampering about in bathrobes and fuzzy slippers, and a song titled "It's Time to Suck 'Necks' " all accompanied on a piano. I left early, but only because I was the sixth patron to go out the door, and my review began "It's only March, but I just saw the worst play of the year." I was in error; it was the worst of the decade --- but the BCA wondered whether they should pre-screen productions for quality. I said no: let anyone in, and reviewers like myself would close the worst ones down. In point of fact,the producers closed up and disappeared the day my weekly-paper review appeared. But later I met a friend who was doing p/r for the BCA who told me I only knew part of the story. In the act-break opening night she and her friend felt that she was obligated to see the whole show, but when they went back they were the only two people in the auditorium.]


The colleges and universities in Boston, many of whom have Theatere Departments, have come at theater in several different ways. For instance, when I got to Cambridge Harvard University had no theater school or classes; academically theater was taught in the English department; and yet nearly every residence-house on campus did plays in their common-rooms, Hasty Pudding Theatricals did an all-male satirical musical (with a traditional all-male kick-line in drag) every year that toured to New Haven and New York, and "The Harvard Dramatic Club" did an ambitious season of half a dozen plays every year. The year after I got to Cambridge, a state-of-the-art theater, with a black-box out back known as The Loeb Ex, was opened as a plaything for these undergraduates. It featured a grid 60 feet up with electric winches that could be programmed to change sets, an "Eisenour Light Board" that could pre-set fifty lighting-changes, and large moveable seat-wagons that could configure a playing-space in proscenium, three-quarter-thrust or two-sided --- plus a scene-shop for building sets and a green-room.

I acted in a summer house-show ("THE MAN WHO CAME TO DINNER" I was the doctor; I missed my final entrance twice) and had two small parts in "TIGER AT THE GATES" before I graduated to my true calling as a stage-hand for the last H.D.C. show ("THE PLOUGH & THE STARS") before Loeb Drama Center opened. I worked the second show at Loeb ("PEER GYNT" a disaster) and for the next five years, on the main stage ["THE CAUCASIAN CHALK CIRCLE" "AJAX" [done in the original Greek] "ULYSSES IN NIGHTTOWN" "THE GONDOLIERS" "THE YELLOW LOVES" (done by The Poets' Theatre)] and in the Loeb Ex [Sartre'S "THE FLIES" Beckett's "ACT WITHOUT WORDS I" Brecht's "BAAL"), as well as across the street at Radcliffe's Agassiz Theatre ("OH DAD, POOR DAD, MOMMA'S HUNG YOU IN THE CLOSET AND I'M FELLIN' SO SAD" many Harvard Gilbert & Sullivan shows "CANDIDE"), house-shows everywhere, Poets' Theatre shows (MARCEL MARCEAU, NICHOLS & MAY) --- literally anywhere they'd have me. I even worked several summers on the stock-shows there in the Loeb ("VOLPONE" "THE MISANTHROPE" "CAPTAIN BRASSBOUND'S CONVERSION" Anouilh's "ANTIGONE"). I held things, I tied things, I coiled light-cables, I went for coffee, and I got in the way. But I learned a lot about how plays get made.

In those days students would often give so much time to theater that they'd get "on pro" and have to spend the next semester passing classes before plunging back into their first love --- or splitting for New York to become famous, or try. But, as Broadway slowly dried up and blew away, the eagerness to get on a stage ebbed away. Harvard handed their state-of-the-art playhouse over to Robert Brustein's carpetbaggers up from Yale and now lets the students have a shot or two at the main stage and a summer season in the Loeb Ex, and I am stuck with all my many glittering memories. The good news, though, is that that American Repertory Theatre also runs classes in the Practice, opposed to the mere reading, of theatre --- and though they are rarely publicized, their productions are stunning.

When I got to Cambridge, over in Summerville (or is it Medford?) an in-the-round teacup called The Tufts Arena Theatre was doing some of the best shows I've ever seen (Anouilh's "THE CAVERN" Capek'S "THE INSECT PLAY" "ROSENCRANTZ & GUILDENSTERN ARE DEAD"), most of them directed by Harry M. Ritchie. He once told me why colleges must do live plays; he said he could give any student the technical means to act in a semester, and from then on his own drive would carry him as far as possible --- so performances were not to the benefit of theater students. Instead, performances were to introduce the non-theater students to live plays and the art of theater. But, after teaching there for some years, Ritchie left to become a Theater Czar out in Colorado's educational system. And a few years later Tufts built a new in-the-round Balch Arena that, for some reason, I've never managed to enter, at least so far.

Emerson College, where teachers never manage to make tenure, has a theatre-school and a different approach. I'm not sure that students there learn technique or expertise or even history but a hell of a lot of them come away with Enthusiasm. Spiro Veloudos went there; the Image Theater people and Ron & Polly came out of Emerson.

What Emerson gives Boston is what is now called the Cutler Majestic Theatre, in the block of Tremont Street between the Colonial and Ye Wilbur. When I came here it masqueraded as a movie-house called The Gary, where I saw "La Dolce Vita" for the first time. Cleaning and renovating and re-creating The Majestic was a wonderful gift, and since it re-opened Emerson has booked into it a diverse series of brief-run events --- 26 of them this season --- mostly visitors (Opera Boston, Mark Morris Dance Group, the WGBH Celtic Soujourn concerts, Teatro Lirico d'Europa --- one- to four-night stands, max) and, once a year, a major musical by students. Above the markee a big dazzling light-show sign proclaims the season in zippy colors reminiscent to some of similar signs in Las Vegas.

What Emerson gives its students, however, are a state-of-the-art television studio and a large stage on which to learn the craft and to do workshops of original plays. For these though you must walk around the corner, past the Colonial and half-way down an alley with an ornate entryway off Boylston Street where, once you find the right numbered door you'll probably have to ask directions once inside. And they gave us Spiro Veloudos.

The Boston Conservatory's theatre is on Hemenway Street, a block off Boylston from the Mass Station stop on the Green Line. The Conservatory teaches the crafts of music, singing, and acting and gives the world gifted, exciting young performers ready to become professionals. Their theatre is a small high-riser proscenium stage where excellent outside designers and directors stage plays and musicals that consistently outshine visiting Big Barn productions. Students have often been encouraged to seek casting in productions by professional or near-professional local companies, and they seem fitted by their studies to find work, here or elsewhere, where they can shine. They mount a handful of shows every season, but the auditorium is small and not always publicized. Pity.

In addition to their Huntington Avenue theatre and The Wimberly space at the BCA, Boston University gives the city The Boston Playrights' Theatre --- two totally different stages staffed by unobtrusive theater-lovers who welcome small struggling companies several times every season. One stage is shallow, flat, and incredibly wide and faces three or four wide rows that wrap around at either end. Down the hall is a narrower high-risered space with a two-story stage. Directors like to use that upper story for interesting effects, but both spaces take full advantage of their small size for intimate stageing and performances.

Actually, Boston Playwrights' got started when Derek Walcott began giving seminars for graduate students in the writing of plays in a hands-on system where directors and actors mount near-complete performances of new scripts that can then be critiqued and re-written. (Graduates of the seminar can come back and have their new plays produced there any time they want to; I like that.) Since the students are few in number and encouraged to write or re-write, this leaves the theatres many week-end slots throughout the year where other companies can pay minimal rent for brief runs.

But perhaps their greatest gift is The Boston Theater Marathon, held for the past ten years on the Sunday before that irrelevent little foot-race that starts out in Hopkinton every April. [When they did the first one, I raced up to the box-office at 11:30 saying breathlessly "Am I too late to get a ticket for The Marathon"? and the laconic reply was "Yeah, 23 and a half hours." It was Monday.] BPT chooses fifty plays and fifty local theater companies to perform them, then runs a new play every ten minutes from noon till 10 p m --- followed by a joyous party. Not everyone manages to stay the entire ten hours but even those who only dip into this rich pudding come away mightily impressed by the breadth and depth of the playwriting and performing talents available here in Boston. Directors, actors, producers and playwrights use The Marathon to showcase themselves, companies trawl it every year for casting possibilities. It is one of four annual events --- with the StageSource Party, and the Elliot Norton and IRNE Award Ceremonies --- at which the entire Greater Boston theatrical community can be found in the same room.

I have two personal comments. In recent years, in my opinion the short plays that make The Marathon have drifted toward a stylistic coalescence that emphasizes situation and dialogue over physical or stylistic means. I can remember one startling image from an early play: a man walked on stage with a full-sized woman's body seemingly thrust through his chest --- why I cannot remember, but that image was unforgettable! Perhaps playwrights are not submitting plays like that one anymore; maybe the play-readers reject such experiments; or companies may not want to spend time and money on such effects for only ten minutes of fame. But, except for plays done by The Rough & Tumble company, mime and physical effects are getting rare. And, since I have long hoped that a unique "Boston style" of plays could be developed here, I am reluctant to lose these aspects of theatrical possibility.

I've mentioned the fact that the BPT's staff is generally unobtrusive yet obviously efficient and helpful. Visiting companies uniformly find it a pleasure to work there. The only one I've gotten to know is Kate Snodgrass --- and it should surprise no one that I have been secretly in love with this witty, intelligent powerhouse of a woman for years. And I say this knowing that in this, I am Not alone! If BPT has a symbol, she is it.

But let me cite one more university here: Suffolk University has had the good sense to employ a refreshingly imaginative young teacher and director named Wesley Savick, and they have hosted a playwriting-workshop group (???) as well. Savick is enrolled this year in the playwriting seminar at BPT, he has a flair for "experimental" theater and physical effects I admire (A play of his exploring climate change had, hung from the ceiling, a dozen blocks of ice that pointedly, drippingly melted throughout the performance!) His work doesn't always come together, but I'm fascinated by the way his mind works!

THE FACTORY THEATRE & THE CHARLESTOWN WORKING THEATRE @ CAMBRIDGE YMCA'S DURRELL HALL The last layer of Boston theater I want to lay bare are in one sense the tiny bottom-feeders --- shoestring companies that some refer to as our "fringe" where people make plays because they cannot help themselves. This is a sort of artistic compost-heap that feeds and nourishes all the other layers, and has done so for years. The Theatre Company of Boston and the original Lyric Stage were such companies; the Atma and The People's Theatre and The Rose Coffeehouse and The Actors' Workshop were the fringe for a different generation, and these days The Rough & Tumble Company, Theatre On Fire, Molasses Tank Productions, Imaginary Beasts, The Orfeo Project, 11:11, Longwood Players and Metro Stage, Gurnet Theatre Project, Boston Actors' Theatre, Bad Habit Productions, F.U.D.G.E., Mill 6, Fort Point Theatre Channel, Queer Soup, Small World Big Sky, Makeshift Theatre, --- and I mention only a few! --- are alive and well and making plays in the city. Their houses and their budgets are too small, but their hearts are huge. Give them a stage to stand on, and miracles take place.

The good news is that several "umbrella spaces" --- The Boston Center for The Arts and Boston Playwrights' Theatre are excellent examples --- and co-operatives are today doing the work the Rose Coffeehouse and The Actors' Workshop did in the past: they give companies low-rental stages and then get out of their way. Their histories are fascinating.

In 1854 Jonas Chickering Pianofortes were manufactured in a building at 791 Tremont Street in Boston, which is two blocks from Mass Station on the Orange Line right now. After Chickering moved out, years ago the building was taken over by the Piano Craft Guild and provides low-rent studio- and living-space lofts to artists. At some point a company called The Beau Jest Moving Theatre took a two-story brick-walled box with its own entrance at the back of the building to use as a rehearsal space. Beau Jest rarely performed in Boston --- they toured. But after rehearsing, while they toured, they started renting out the space to other Boston companies. What they got was a 49-seat "brick-box" with a couple dozen lights and a second-floor (where the bathroom is) light-board. The space opens on the building's pine-tree'd central courtyard, and its entrance isn't really 791 Tremont, it's half-way up the Piano Craft Guild's parking lot, entered from Northampton Street.

Well, Beau Jest moved on. The space was handed on to The Threshold Theatre, a lesbian-oriented company that over time did fewer and fewer performances but rented out the space. Eventually they handed it on to Rose Carlson's Devanaughn Theatre Company that mounted three or four shows every year until Rose found working in film more interesting than directing or acting on live stages. Greg Jutkiewicz (the technical wizard who designed lights and sound for Threshold and Devanaughn) has inherited the space, re-christened it The Factory Theatre (as a company they just mounted their initial production under that name in their home space) and continues the tradition of renting to other, homeless companies.

To get to the Charlestown Working Theatre you get off the Orange Line at Sullivan Square and try to walk to the Schrafts building tower, then staying on the far side of a maze of superhighways you go past the Teamsters union buildings and then across from the firehouse across the tracks and, on the far side of the community gardens, there it is.

I heard about it nearly forty years ago but got there only decades later. What I found was the old, abandoned firehouse, with a concrete floor, huge gashed and drafty holes in the walls, and a rickety set of long wooden bleacher-seats. Then, I think in 2006 there was a renovation. There are real walls now, and a lobby area where paintings can be hung. There are still wooden folding-chairs on the risers, but a new floor is gleamingly polished and some actresses enjoy sliding or getting flung across it. Up in one corner, as if to proclaim its roots, there is a round hole where firemen used to slide down a pole whenever the siren sounded.

It's a multi-use space, with children's plays, a puppet company, a comedy-night, Diane Edgecomb's Celtic stories, and the ever-popular et cetera get performed. The theater people who use it --- Theatre On Fire, Molasses Tank Productions, Imaginary Beasts and others --- have specialized in quirkily edgy physical theater productions that break up that fourth wall and shake up the mind.

The Durrell Hall performance space in the Central Square Cambridge YMCA was also renovated and re-dedicated as The YMCA Family Theatre in December 2002. The chairs can be arranged about a high thrust-stage, and there's a ring of balcony seats. It's on the second floor, and The Metro Stage and The Longwood Players call it home and have done musicals and straight-plays there for several seasons, in addition to other rental companies --- Boston Actors' Theatre, Zero Point Productions --- and others.

The face of the future

When I first started The Theater Mirror in 1994, The Underground Railway Theater was famous, everywhere but Boston, as a touring company, and The Nora Theatre Company was in residence in the Freshman Student Union building in Harvard Yard, up the street from the Fogg Art Museum. (In fact, my first Mirror review was of the Nora's production of "A Perfect Ganesh"). Last July, after many long, homeless years, these two companies --- with the help of the government of Cambridge and of The Massachusetts Institute of Technology --- opened their brand new playing space, The Central Square Theater, at 450 Massachusetts Avenue. Bravo!

Underground Railway specializes in unique productions often involving puppetry and imaginative props, sets, and stageing; their shows, often touring schools, are designed to interest and inform and surprise. They share an interest in women as well as social issues with The Nora Theater, and with a pied-a-terre these two can begin exploring ways to explore the science.

And, in broader terms, there is a lot of "else" going on in theater --- a healthy ring of community theatres in nearby suburbs, companies doing work in nearby towns, plus new companies opening here or moving here from other places. But back in 2004 a company was founded that sums up my hope for the future: The Actors' Shakespeare Project.

Their artistic director Ben Evett smiles when he admits he thought the idea up one evening, and everyone he told about it enthusiastically wanted to help. He wanted to bring together a company of experienced Equity actors here in Boston interested in trying to pump new life into The Bard without letting either money or sets or "concepts" interfere with the humanity that actors bring to characters. They have performed in new spaces, cut the acting company down to a minimum (four in one case), had men play the women's parts (and vice versa), let composers standing on-stage create accompaniment, and made 300-year-old plays come alive again. They take full advantage of the experience and the expertise of local, professional actors eager to stretch their chops and test their techiques on stories audiences only think they know by heart. A.S.P. is probably my favorite Boston theatrical company right now.

And is that all there is to the layers and levels of theater here in Boston? Hell no! I've seen 102 plays already this year, I'm going to four more this week, and it's only September and "the season" isn't even started. What a wonderful time to be seeing plays. Lots, and lots and lots of plays.

Come with me, won't you?

( a k a larry stark )


Date: Thu, 11 Sep 2008 08:20:53 -0400
From: "Linda Lowy" linda@shakespearenow.org
Subject: Shakespeare Now! Theatre Company

Dear Larry,
I read your beautifully written theater article with great interest. May I add a point in the category of "Hope for the Future?"

Shakespeare Now! Theatre Company is a perfect example of it. We perform for over 70 Massachusetts schools each Spring in our touring season (no theater to our name, but "found spaces" every day), and produce our stationary Fall play in Boston, thereby reaching countless thousands of youngsters every year.
Through our massive efforts, we are helping to create theater-going audiences of the future, and, we imagine, future theater-makers.

That is, indeed, "Hope for the Future!"
Best wishes,
Linda Lowy
Artistic Director
Shakespeare Now! Theatre Company

And The Awards Go On

Nominations have been announced for The 26th Annual
7:00 pm on Monday, May 12 at Harvard University’s Sanders Theatre (45 Quincy Street, Cambridge). Tickets are $10.00, available by calling 617.496.2222 or online at www.fas.harvard.edu/~tickets/ .


Theater awards in NEW HAMPSHIRE

Letters in This Year's IRNEs

Date: Mon, 14 Apr 2008 19:25:21 -0400
From: Ilyse Robbins Mohr ilyser@comcast.net
Subject: IRNEs

Hi Larry,
I hope tonight goes swimmingly. My husband is out of town and I have exhausted my babysitter resources. In fact, several of them are there tonight!
Be well.

Date: Mon, 14 Apr 2008 19:54:30 -0400
From: Kate Snodgrass ksnodgra@bu.edu
Subject: apologies

I'm sitting at my computer and trying to call more theatre companies for the marathon (since two dropped out today--through no fault of their own), and I'm sending out letters to playwrights and companies, pairing them together. I have an all day festival of new works by high school kids on Wednesday that has to be prepared for and cast with about 40 actors, and then I go to D.C. on Wednesday night directly after the festival.
That's why I'm not at the IRNE's -- the lovely IRNE's, always so much FUN, I'm so disappointed! I can't get out from under these papers or this pressure.
I'm thinking of you all and wishing, wishing I was there. I hope it goes swimmingly and everybody celebrates all that good work. Please give my regards and apologies to everyone involved. I love you all. With great affection,

Date: Tue, 15 Apr 2008 18:04:02 -0700 (PDT)
From: Linda Sughrue greatgambs@yahoo.com
Subject: Thank you!

Linda Sughrue here. I had to head out of the IRNE's last night before I turned into a pumpkin (I just got back from a business trip to Finland, so was dog tired). Anyway...I just wanted to thank you for the IRNE award for choreography. This was a major milestone in my choreographic career, and I really didn't anticipate winning -- it was truly a thrilling evening and words can't express how elated I am about the award.

Can you please pass along my thanks to the other IRNE's and especially Bev? I know I will see you all around and about, but since I'm only working on a couple short plays right now, which don't go up into May and June, I wanted to make sure that I got my gratitude out there.
Again, thank you so much! I am truly honored (and still get misty-eyed when I think about it).
Linda Sughrue


Date: Thu, 03 Apr 2008 20:01:47 +0100
From: bill.stambaugh@bt.com
Subject: John O'Brien....

Hello Larry,
Just dropping an email to express my deep saddness over the passing of John O'Brien. I just found out on your page today, and I was very saddened. I had the immense honour to work with John twice, in Footlight's "Glengarry Glen Ross" and in CCT's EMACT entry of "A Substance of Fire" (both in the year 2000) and I have to say that I will never in my life meet another man such as he. He was a brilliantly funny and intelligently gifted man, whose wit was always sharp and his talent immense. I will never, and could never forget the mark and influence he had on my life in the breif time I got to spend with him.

I am very sad to hear of his passing, and offer my deepest sympathies to his family.
Thank you,
Bill Stambaugh

Date: Fri, 28 Mar 2008 21:50:38 -0400
From: "Kevin Anderton" midnightchimes@gmail.com
Subject: Phil Patrone

Hi Sheila. I was really saddened to hear that Phil passed away. He was the lead actor in my thesis film, Parting Shots, and he was an incredible actor and great person to work with. I think it was shot in 1998 or so when I was at BU.

I have lots of photos from the set that I could share with you. I can either send you digital scans or send you some copies. Let me know what you need. He's absolutely wonderful in the film. It was shot on film...I have a release print. I also have VHS copies but the transfer is terrible. I'd be happy to screen the film if anyone is interested in seeing Phil's work. I have a projector and screen for a small audience.
Kevin Anderton
Midnight Chimes Productions

Date: Fri, 28 Mar 2008 03:57:55 -0400
From: chucksue@comcast.net
Subject: John O'Brien

Hi Larry - I went to Malden High School, I graduated in 1973. I was one of those kids who didn't fit in, I was smart, which was not cool as I was considered a nerd, I wore glasses, had braces on my teeth, had acne, and was as thin as a rail. Back then, being a size 0 was not the style and in fact my mom had all sorts of problems finding adult clothes to fit my 85 pound body! (I still had that Boston Ballet mentality-don't eat!)

I got involved with The Greenroom Society, run by John O'Brien. The first thing I did with this group of talented misfits was a night of one-act plays. John cast me in a character role. Well, being 16 years old I was not too thrilled about playing a 40 year old woman in baggy clothes who ran a boarding house for poor people. John took me aside and said to me, Susan, you are a good actress. You have natural instincts and your comic timing is great. You ARE a character actress. He went on to say, Believe me, a good character actress will always work and they are the characters the audiences love.

I never forgot that. He took the time to talk to me. Years later, I realized how flattered I should have been that someone of John O'Brien's brilliance and stature thought that I was a good actress!

As you know, I have had a pretty nice career for myself playing character roles, and he was right, they are the BEST roles! God speed Mr. O'Brien! You were quirky, funny, brilliant and a wonderful teacher!
---Susan Walsh

TO Read
The Boston GLOBE Obituary for
Playwright John O'Brien
click here


Date: Tue, 25 Mar 2008 17:10:47 -0500
From: daak daak@comcast.net
Subject: Still Standing-Old Theatre Update

Hi Larry,
Well, it's been a long year or so that I've been working on the renovations here at the Old theatre at the Elizabeth Peabody House. As you may recall, when The Theatre Coop dissolved in 2006, the space at 277 Broadway was facing permanent closure. We managed to persuade the good people at EPH to put some work into the place and now we face yet another hurdle. As much as I want to keep the theatre open as an inexpensive and high quality venue for new works, classes, and rental for performing groups, the word just doesn't seem to be reaching enough people. Every time I mention what we're doing at EPH to a colleague when I run into them at various openings and so forth I get pretty much the same reaction; that they've heard about it being available to rent by word of mouth or read about us in Stage Source postings...then when I catch up with the same people a few months down the road and they ask me how things are they are surprised that more isn't happening in such a great space. What seems to be going on is that everybody appears to think we're all booked up.

If it wasn't such a serious thing I'd be laughing about the situation.
I just want to say here and now to everyone out there looking for a wonderful space for a really good price....Call Me!

Please help me to spread the word.
I'm in a bit of a bind with the EPH board in that I have until this summer to meet a quota of at least three monthly rentals before the future of the space comes up for review. If I can't sell it as a theatre there's a strong chance that all the nice renovation work we've been doing will end up being used as an indoor activity room and all the theatre accoutrement such as dimmer and light booth will be tossed out. I honestly thought it would be simple to line up three months rental back in January when I agreed to it. And I've shown the space off to literally dozens of groups who all tend to back out just before the contracts are to be signed. Their reasons are mostly that they can't afford our rates, that we seat too few patrons, and that we don't have a concession stand.

I can't do too much about the rates, we're already leasing at a bare minimum of $800/month, and our capacity of 75 occupants comes from fire and building inspectors.
However, our brand new concession stand will be completed by mid April.

The other big wrinkle for folks is insurance. The way it stands now, we require renters to have their own insurance, which is a pain in the butt for them, but still a fact of life. The EPH budget doesn't include the funds this year for a TULIP policy, which would essentially cover anyone who walked in the door. Plans for that are in the works if the space proves viable as a rental house but for now we can only offer a partial solution that leaves all of our renters covered, but it pushes our rental fee up a couple of hundred bucks.

So the renter company is saved the legwork of procuring their coverage(which is significant), but they still pay for it in installments

. The EPH doesn't stand to make a profit with the Old Theatre, we're not in it for the money. ButI have to prove to thepowers that be that The Old Theatre at The Peabody House is at this time(with no regards to the past mind you) a valuable asset to the community.

What will prove that is simply that people use it for what it's meant for.
So, I'll keep doing what I'm doing, and learning newer and better ways to do that, but I really need your help and that of our community to spread the word that this resource is not only available for their use but in great need of them as well. And Boston, we need you now, today, not in a golden age of mystic crystal revelation just around the corner. If no one avails themselves of this opportunity right now, it won't be here tomorrow.
-Doc Madison

Doc Madison, Director of Theatre
Elizabeth Peabody House | 275 Broadway Somerville 02145
617.623.5510 ext112 | www.docmadison.org

Date: Tue, 25 Mar 2008 17:16:51 -0400
From: sheilasta@aol.com

As you know, I am collecting remembrances, stories and anecdotes to put in to a book for Phil Patrone's daughter Grace. I am going to try to get it completed by Phil's memorial which is tentatively set for mid-May. In spite of my telling some of you that you had plenty of time to send me thins, getting it finished by mid-May will require me to change the time table. I would be extremely grateful if you emailed your comments, stories, etc., by April 10th. Anyone who wants to may contribute and no one should feel pressured to do so if they choose not to.

So, for those would like to participate, please email me your comments and, if you have any pictures of Phil that I can include, email those as well, as soon as you can.

My email is: sheilasta@aol.com

My snail mail is: Sheila Stasack
60-11 Broadway #4H
Woodside, NY 11377

If you send me pictures by snail mail, I will do my best to return them. Also, please include your full name. I can't always tell from your email address who you are.
Many, many thanks,

Date: Tue, 18 Mar 2008 18:12:19 -0400
From: "Rick Lombardo" ricklombardo@newrep.org>
Subject: Phil Patrone

Betsey Patrone has asked me to pass on the following information to the theater community about the details of Phil's wake and funeral next week. She knows that many of us loved Phil a great deal and want to be able to share in his remembrance. Betsey also knows that we in the theatre community will want to do our own celebration to remember Phil, and I'm in communication with Betsey and Spiro to try to arrange something a little further down the road, most probably in May.

Visiting hours will be Monday from 4 - 8 pm at Brown and Sons Funeral Home, 36 Trapelo Road in Belmont. The funeral will be held Tuesday at 9am at St. Joseph's Church, 128 Common St, also in Belmont. In lieu of flowers donations may be made in his memory to the Stanley Tippet Home, 920 South Street, Needham, Ma, which is the hospice where Phil spent his last days.
Warmest regards,
Rick Lombardo

Date: Sat, 15 Mar 2008 22:53:44 -0400
From: sheilasta@aol.com
Subject: A sad day

Forgive me if you've already received this information. At a little after 6 PM tonight, Phil Patrone passed away. I do not know how his last few hours were, but it was clear when I saw him earlier today that he was a man passionately committed to his family who was not going to leave them until he was ready.
The tentative plans for a wake and funeral will be Monday and Tuesday, March 24 and 25. I will email when I know more.

Date: Sun, 16 Mar 2008 12:24:56 -0400
From: sheilasta@aol.com
Subject: Phil's Funeral

For those who would like to attend, Phil Patrone's family will be having a visitation on Monday, March 24 from 4 until 8 PM at:

Brown and Sons Funeral Home
36 Trapelo Road
Belmont, MA

His funeral service will be on Tuesday, March 25 at 9 AM at

St. Joseph's
130 Common St.
Belmont, MA

Date: Thu, 06 Mar 2008 16:14:31 -0500
From: Geralyn Horton g.l.horton@mindspring.com
Subject: Re: Phil Patrone

Larry, John O'Brien passed away yesterday. I think Jason Taylor is putting together a tribute.

Beverly Creasey for Philip Patrone Book
I often listened to Philip on WCRB, soothing my soul with Beethoven and Berlioz, but my most vivid memory of Philip is as an actor: creeping me out as a corrupt cop at New Rep in PILLOWMAN---breaking me up in THE COMEDY OF ERRORS at the Publick Theatre---and making my heart break as a washed up, broken jazz man at the Lyric in SIDE MAN.

Date: Thu, 06 Mar 2008 02:42:53 -0500
From: sheilasta@aol.com
Subject: Phil Patrone

Hi Everyone,
Please forgive this mass email, but I'm trying to reach as many of you as possible and a lot of the email addresses I have are old and no longer used.

I know that many, perhaps all, of you know that Phil Patrone is extremely ill. It is unlikely that he will recover. If you know Phil or have worked with him, could you take a minute and write a short anecdote about any experience, memory, or impressions you have of him? I would like to take these stories and put them in a book for Gracie so that as she grows, she will have an idea of what her father was like when he was healthy.

Betsy spoke about how wonderful and supportive so many of you have been. I hope that the contribution of our experiences with Phil and the gift his talent has been to so many of us will be a comfort to him and his family.

Please email these anecdotes to me here:
And feel free to pass this request on to anyone you feel might like to share their experiences with Phil.
Many thanks,
Sheila Stasack

Date: Wed, 13 Feb 2008 10:52:16 -0500
From: Arthur Hennessey norfolk1a@hotmail.com
Subject: For the Greenroom - IRNE Question - New Plays

Hi Larry,
I was looking over the IRNE nominations for this year and I had a question about the criteria for the category of New Plays. This has, by the way, nothing to do with the playwrights or the quality of the nominated works.

In the category for Best New Play (Small Company) Christopher Shinn's play Dying City is nominated. In the Large Company division, Ronan Noone's The Atheist is nominated.
Dying City premiered at the Royal Court in London in 2006 and then had a subsequent production at Lincoln Center in New York.
The Atheist, while certainly developed locally at The Huntington, premiered in New York City, Off-Broadway in November of 2006.
I had always assumed that New Plays were classified as those receiving their world premiere or first full production in Boston. Or that they could be involved in something like the National New Play Network so that if they received their first production at a sister theatre in another city, the local co-production would count.
There is no doubt that these are "New" plays, but what is the defining criteria. Or is does it go on a year to year basis.
Art Hennessey

Date: Wed, 13 Feb 2008 16:12:14 -0500
From: "Useless Theatre" littleredhenplay@gmail.com
Subject: Re: Little Red Hen

"Hi Larry,
I'm sure you're busy as usual, but would you mind posting a little something about my play Little Red Hen? I heard you had a good time the Thursday that you went and although it was only a two weekend run it would be nice to have some sort of write up.

Unfortunately, there were no professional reviews of the play during its run through early February. Pretty much every major paper snubbed it and didn't send anyone: the Digg, the Phoenix, the Metro, Herald, Globe, etc. Some of these I can understand, but on the first weekend the notice I had sent was even bumped from the Phoenix Play-by-Play for listings of out of town shows and what appeared to be ongoing dinner theatre... To my knowledge it was the only new play up at the time written by a local, and the play is under consideraton for national awards (after selection at the northeast regional level) because I developed it last year through the playwriting degree at Boston University. (It was previously workshopped locally by Shadowboxing.) I really hope that this production is not the end of it, but since it had its premiere here in Boston it would be nice to have a professional-level review to attach to a cover letter when sending it out to other theaters in other cities.

What's more, the director, cast and crew worked very hard and for their sake I was very sad to see that there weren't any professional notices at all. I tried over and over to attract reviewers to come -- to the extent of often asking "am I doing something wrong here?" The replies were typcially, "I'm sorry, there's a lot going on, good luck." Through internet marketing and posts we were able to draw a crowd of patrons, even from outside the typical theatre community. Many people enjoyed it and had great things to say. So the reward of playing to a crowd was nice, but it's a shame that the broader potential audience could not be reached for the run.

What it comes down to is the same noticable trend -- highly commercialized "theatre-on-display" is trumping a lot of local theatre that's going on out there and therefore many of our local artists get screwed. And perhaps I am biased, but it seems that this is especially true for those working on new plays written by local playwrights. I wonder if Boston theatre will ever allow itself to have a voice of its own like other cities.

So if you do have some time, please post something about the play. I would really appreciate it. But whether or not that's possible, please know that you're a saint to this community for all you do. Thanks,
Jon Myers


From: Mirror Nature mirroruptonature@hotmail.com
Subject: Hi Larry
Sent: Tuesday, August 7, 2007 9:22 AM

Thought you would find this link interesting regarding fringe performances.
The author is a fringe theater artist in Seattle:
http:// profwill.spymac.com/ has some of the 10 minute plays Will wrote as Marathon entries.
A dozen or so of Will's friends gathered at Burns Park during the River Festival Saturday(16 June), and held a reading of some of Will's short scripts. My husband David Meyer (who's known Will since the old Boston Computer Society in the early 1970s) recorded the reading of one of them, THE NEXT DAY, for our weekly Stagepage Podcast. You can hear Will's play, along with an informal eulogy by Marianne Donnelly, at http://glhorton.podOmatic.com Geralyn

The two very eloquent "podcast" reminsicences are called

Date: Mon, 11 Jun 2007 17:05:09 -0400
From: "M. Donnelly" mdonnelly00@hotmail.com
Subject: stackman/donnelly

William James Stackman II, born May 1941 died June 2007 in Somerville, Massachusetts was a life-companion with me. I met Will in 1985 when he hired me as a folk singer for the Cambridge River Festival. The first memory of him was when on that day he was running maddly through the streets trying at the last minute to make a place for the folk singers stage with some protection from a sudden rain that was unexpected. I followed him around and said, "Hey, mister, it's not your fault it's raining, don't worry." He grouchily said, " no, it's not my fault but I have to fix it."

The show went on between two trees on Memorial Drive and we all sang and the rain subsided. He had tried to string a tarp across from tree to tree. I called him the next day to thank him and we started talking. I asked him If I could meet with him again to get more ideas about performing in Cambridge. He immediately gave me names, ideas and sources. I continued to call him on artistic ideas and eventually he invited me to meet his friends and from there the friendship grew.

In 1988 we were lovers for a long time. We continued to see each other a few times a week but he had a certain living style and so did I and so we never lived together but instead spent much of our together-time at my home. He was my emergency contact on my passport, landlord, bank accounts and all. We shared everything, cars, people, information, theatre equipment, amplifiers etc.

Two years ago he wanted to formalize our twenty year companionship. I said paper wasn't necessary since everyone in the theatre, puppetry, and computer worlds knew and saw us together a lot. I wasn't much of a paper person. I was wrong, again, and he was right. Especially now that the details of his death are upon me.

William was honorable, brilliant, unselfish, giving, engaging, loquacious, funny, wise. He hated fools, cheats, liars, egoists, and especially gold-diggers. It seems his past had been loaded with them and he had estranged himself from friends and family who had exhibited some of these unsavory characteristics. This makes fulfilling his final wishes difficult since he was reticent about not getting in touch, or having me, or his other friends, get in touch with these neerdowells. Now, we must follow the laws. His next of kin, if they can be found by the detectives, must be informed by the Medical Examiner's Office before anything else can be done. Nevertheless, we go forward with many memorials that are planned and announced on this web site.

Many people who had seen us together at Cambridge River Festivals, Earth Day, Theatre Shows, parties, meetings and much more have called to tell me their favorite "William" stories. They are remarkably the same. "At first I was put off by his gruffness...but them I grew to love and admire and listen to him...." was the general outline with colorful incidents ommitted.

As far as I can tell he had no enemies, did no harm, gave tirelessly of this mind, ideas, technical skills, laughter, physical strength and car. His only "flaw" seems to be his alternative-housekeeping style, and, a penchant for not giving out basic legal information (names, dates, numbers, addresses, etc).This proves to be his final challenge to those of us working without pay on the aspects of his memorials and his final wishes.

I look forward to reading all the comments and comical incidents that ran through this wonderful Sage's life. I remain in love with him till the day I go to "the other side," hoping, to see him again.

His particular voice rings daily in my ears and leaves my heart heavy. Our only alternative to sadness is to live up to the standards he demanded of us all. I am certainly trying as I cry daily for my man.

Marianne Donnelly 617 983-1183 Will's "little pict."

William Stackman  1941-2007

"Prof. Will", as he's known around Beantown, did theatre, including puppetry, in these parts for a quarter century or more. His theatre adventures began back in his hometown of Madison CT in the early '50s, as part of the Nutmeg Players. That still viable community theatre traces its roots to the peripatetic Jitney Players who were headquartered there on the Connecticut shore in the early '30s. Active in theatre at Mount Hermon where he graduated in '58, Will became hyper-active at DePauw University (Greencastle, IN), where he managed a student experimental theater, directed an opera, played various minor roles, and still managed to graduate Phi Beta Kappa in 1962.

After studing Psycholgy at Yale for a year as an NIMH Fellow headed for a PhD, he switched to the Theatre program at Wesleyan (Middletown, CT), working as a grad assistant, and earning an MA for Theatre in Production in 1965. Hanging out for the rest of the 60's at Cornell, he spent four years studying and doing theatre and film, but never submitted his thesis-- a chronicle of the relationship between Broadway and Hollywood in the decades before and after talkies took over. While at Cornell he managed the studio theatre, created several experimental productions, house-managed film series, and acted now and then--  a favorite role was Lanthorn Leatherhead "Master of Motions", the fairground puppeteer in Ben Jonson's "Bart'l'mew Faire"

Leaving Ithaca, the Prof. taught at Cal. State/Long Beach during the year Reagan shut down state campuses to stifle dissent, then returned East to teach technical theatre for two years at Rutgers. When New Jersey rejected their first income tax and the University budgets were slashed, Will decided he'd been in school too long and came up to Boston to concentrate on puppetry, and became a Punch Professor.

He became part of the technical staff at the still-missed Orson Welles Complex, but it wasn't long h before he was back to teaching at Pine Manor College in Brookline: building scenery, directing musicals, and lecturing on Theatre for Young Audiences. He also continued performing various versions of the traditional "Tragical Comedie and Comical Tragedie of Punch and Judy" as Boston's senior Punch Professor. He  taught at Boston Conservatory, Wheelock College, and Newton North High, and directed the Gateway Puppeteers in Brookline.

In the '70s and '80s Will worked on the first decade of FIRST NIGHT, ran two editions of Summer StART at Fort Point Channel, and then for the Cambridge Arts Council was Technical Director for the Cambridge River Festival, while supervising Arts Lottery projects and other community efforts.

Will was a founding board member and Technical Director for the first years of Boston's Playwrights' Platform, and active in the A.T.A., N.E.T.C., and the Puppeteers of America, Boston Area Guild, Ch#9 thereof. He was also on the advisory board of the late lamented Boston Computer Society, and could be found by old friends at the MIT Electronics Flea Market and BMUG meetings. Will's reviews of Boston-area theatre can be found on AisleSay.com (a national compendium), Larry Stark's Theater Mirror ( a local resource), and his own site ON THE AISLE.  He was part of the Independent Reviewers of New England's (IRNE) Awards committee, and a tireless advocate for good work under Spartan conditions in obscure venues. 

Memorial plans so far include:

The Cambridge Arts Council at the Cambridge River Festival: Mini parade at 5:00 pm Saturday June 16th on the Festival site celebrating Will Stackman and Ritchie Goldstein, junk percussionist extraordinaire who was a part of many Boston area festivals, most notably Sponstaneous Celebrations' Wake Up the Earth. Includes Puppeteers Cooperative, stiltwalkers & drummers.

Memory Wall     Bring your contribution -- a note, a sign, a photo, a puppet, to place on a Community Bulletin Board celebrating Will -- or carry it in the parade.

Play Reading   Will wrote some 10 minute plays in recent years.  If there is interest, we have a beautiful little park that could be used at 4:00pm  if actor/director volunteers come forth to read them.  Contact Jane Beal, Cambridge Arts Council, 617-349-4381  jbeal@CambridgeMA.gov

Playwrights Platform at Boston Playwrights Theatre: A first annual Will Stackman Award for Excellence in Directing Award will be voted and presented at the Platform's Annual New Play Festival wrap party after the final 8pm shows Saturday June 16th.

Puppet Showplace  in July.  There will be a Memorial at the Showplace in Brookline Village about a month, to be organized by Marianne Donnelly and  Kris Higgins.  Details TBA on the www.TheaterMirror.com web site

Monday, 14 June
Unhappy News:
After a long bout with cancer
Teacher/Reviewer Will Stackman died at home last night.
Details as they come in.


Will Stackman knew too much about theater. He tried to funnel his practical experience making plays and his years of teaching into every one of his reviews; they always turned out only the visible tenth of his vast experience and expertise.
He never failed to answer a question about theater, theater history, or specific techniques and aspects of design. Often, an act-break never gave him enough time to finish his replies.
Will refused to stop working; he'd gone to a play the very night before he died, but never got to finish a review. And he sat through the entire MARATHON this year, though often doubled over with stomach-pain.
He is a role-model for us all.
Rest easy, Will.
===Larry Stark


From: "Beal, Jane" jbeal@CambridgeMA.GOV
Date: June 6, 2007 10:53:33 AM EDT
To: g.l.horton@mindspring.com
Subject: Celebrating Will -- results so far of discussions

Dear Friends:
With Will Stackman's shuffling off this mortal coil, the Cambridge River Festival is scrambling to celebrate his many contributions, talents and unique qualities. You probably know that Will was a central part of the 28 years of the festival's history -- most recently inspiring the puppet focus at last year's Kid's Area.
The Cambridge River Festival takes place on Saturday, June 16 from 12 Noon to 6pm.

We are working to pull together something that respects Will's reticence about making a fuss while also recognizing that he had a great impact on many lives. Here are some firm plans and some ideas:

~ 5:00pm: Mini parade on the festival site celebrating Will Stackman and Ritchie Goldstein
Ritchie -- junk percussionist extraordinaire-- was a part of many Boston area festivals, most notably Spontaneous Celebrations' Wake Up the Earth Confirmed for the parade: Puppeteers Cooperative, stiltwalkers & drummers from Spontaneous Ideas:

~ Memory Wall
Bring your contribution -- a note, a sign, a photo, a puppet, to place on a Community Bulletin Board celebrating Will -- or carry it in the parade.

~ Table Reading @ 4:00pm
Will wrote three 10 minute plays in recent years. If there is interest, we have a beautiful little park that could be used.

~ Promote Awareness
Playwright's Platform has proposed a Director's Award in Will's honor. This would be announced/presented on the same day as our festival -- the final night of the 35th annual Festival of New Plays. We'd be happy to draw attention to this event in some appropriate manner at the Cambridge River Festival. http:// www.playwrightsplatform.org/festival.html
Best wishes,
Jane Beal
Director of Community Arts Cambridge Arts Council
344 Broadway
Cambridge, MA 02139
Phone: 617-349-4381
Fax: 617-349-4669
Email: jbeal@CambridgeMA.gov
Web: www.cambridgeartscouncil.org

G.L. Horton, playwright


Date: Thu, 07 Jun 2007 06:34:23 -0700 (PDT)
From: Susan Gross actingsuz@yahoo.com
Subject: Will S.

Hi Larry,
I just wanted to say how sorry I was to hear that Will passed away. I know you must be getting a lot of e-mails, but have you heard about any sort of memorial service for him? I've been checking the Globe daily but I've seen no notices yet. I wasn't aware that he had been ill. I can already feel a great loss to the Boston theatre community, especially on the fringe side, to which he was a big supporter. Please let me know any details when you can.


Date: Wed, 06 Jun 2007 08:49:05 -0400
From: maureen keiller keiller@comcast.net
Subject: Will

Larry, how sad I was to hear of Will Stackman's passing. He did, indeed, die with his boots on. My heartfelt sympathy to his loved ones.
Maureen Keiller


Date: Tue, 05 Jun 2007 13:24:48 -0400
From: "Nancy Curran Willis" imadirektor@rcn.com
Subject: Will Stackman

Dear Larry,
I was shocked and saddened to hear of Will's passing. He was such a strong voice for theater in Boston and always gave intelligent and thought provoking reviews. I just spent a few minutes rereading his web pages: AisleSay and And then I Saw. Somehow I felt that allowed me to say goodby to someone I didn't know well but whose work I have long admired. My sympathy to his family and friends. He will be missed.
Nancy Curran Willis


Date: Tue, 05 Jun 2007 22:19:50 -0400
From: "Anne Continelli" patschican@hotmail.com
Subject: Will Stackman

Hi Larry, I'm so sorry to hear about Will. I knew him through The Puppet Showplace Theater -- a place he loved dearly and believed in whole-heartedly. I can't imagine that place without him.

Will could be a difficult, opinionated man, but he was always honest and his intentions were always pure. He was a good soul who left a positive impression on this world. He will be missed.


Date: Tue, 05 Jun 2007 12:54:23 -0400
From: "Linda Lowy" linda@shakespearenow.org
Subject: Sad News

Dear Larry,
I am so sorry to hear about Will. How very sad for him and his loved ones. His presence and his voice will be missed.
Linda Lowy
Artistic Director
Shakespeare Now! Theatre Company


Date: Tue, 05 Jun 2007 10:38:05 -0400
From: "Maryann Zschau" mz@sonarewinds.com Subject: from Maryann Zschau

It was great seeing you last night at the StageSource party. I was so saddened to hear this morning about Will Stackman passing away. It was said that he had had cancer and simply went to the theatre and came home and passed away? How fitting if that were the case - he was a man so dedicated to this crazy business and will be solely missed. Can you please let me know if there are services of any kind because I know there are many of us who would want to attend?


Date: Tue, 05 Jun 2007 10:04:02 -0400
From: "Bonotto, Robert" rbonotto@hbsp.harvard.edu
Subject: from Robert Bonotto

I suspect the tribute Will would appreciate most would be a staged reading of one (or more) of his plays. A not uninteresting idea would be an evening of critics plays: we’ve got, say, Will S, and Carl R. and Geralyn; and Will S *also* wrote a play about reading plays called “Readers’ Fee” which make be a good ending to the evening.
We have enough young theatre groups that one of them could home-base the project for a two-evening run at, say, Boston Playwrights…
Just a thought,
Robert B.


Date: Tue, 05 Jun 2007 08:12:58 -0400
From: Daniel Herrera dherrera2729@mac.com
Subject: Will's memorial services

Hi Larry,
My name is Daniel Herrera and I was a student of Will Stackman and I am extremely saddened to hear of his passing.
Please forward any info regarding memorial services to my email address, if at all possible.
Thanks & Peace,
Daniel Antonio Herrera


Date: Mon, 04 Jun 2007 16:35:05 -0400
From: "Garvey, Thomas" Thomas.Garvey@FMR.com
Subject: Sad News!

Hi Larry -
I was so sorry to hear about Will Stackman's passing. He will definitely be missed. I suppose the only comfort is that he died with his boots on, writing till nearly the last. What more can one ask?
I'll check your website for updates.
Tom Garvey


Date: Mon, 04 Jun 2007 15:04:44 -0400 From: norfolk1a@aol.com Subject: Will Stackman

Hi Larry,
Sad news is right.

Will was not only an original and consistent critical voice for Boston, but somebody who cared deeply about its artists and its workings.

I am shocked to learn of the extent of his illness. As you point out, his passion for theatre must have given him a of inexaustible energy. The last extended conversation I had with him was about his concept for trying to arrange a First Night event for Boston Theatre. Will also contributed to the meetings Jon Myers and company were having for the Boston Playwrights Network over the last six months.

I last saw him at the Marathon as well.
My prayers for Will, his family and friends. He will be missed.
Art Hennessey
Essayons Theatre Company
Boston Theatre, Beyond Boylston


Will Stackman knew too much about theater. He tried to funnel his practical experience making plays and his years of teaching into every one of his reviews; they always turned out only the visible tenth of his vast experience and expertise.
He never failed to answer a question about theater, theater history, or specific techniques and aspects of design. Often, an act-break never gave him enough time to finish his replies.
Will refused to stop working; he'd gone to a play the very night before he died, but never got to finish a review. And he sat through the entire MARATHON this year, though often doubled over with stomach-pain.
He is a role-model for us all.
Rest easy, Will.
===Larry Stark

Sunday, 13 May 2007 0954 a m:
Okay, Confession Time:
I have been addicted to WEEKEND EDITION over WBUR (with re-runs now over WGBH!), in both Saturday and then Sunday formats, since the shows started.
And, though I have "given them up for all time" Two Different Times since my days reading ACTION 1 and BATMAN --- and later E.C., and later still ELFQUEST and CEREBUS and STRANGERS IN PARADISE --- I am still addicted to comic books.
AND, as some of you may know, I graduated high school (in 1950) convinced that, like my role-model Norman Corwin, I would spend my life writing Serious Drama for Radio!
Is it any wonder that my ears perked up when WEEKEND EDITION Sunday began what they refer to as "Chicago Public Radio’s new comic strip" called 11 Central Ave."
But something about that four-minutes-a-week snippet further enlivened my radio-trained ears:
The voices sounded Familiar.....
And they were! Check out this Cast List!
Imagine me having my favorite actors creating my fav... well, Second favorite art-form On Radio! (and now available on my computer as well!) Talk about clam at high tide....!
Go click, and HEAR for yourself!
===Anon. ( a k a larry stark )


Date: Wed, 02 May 2007 15:13:36 -0700 (PDT)
From: Will Stackman profwlll@yahoo.com
Subject: What Fringe?

What Fringe?

After the IRNEs the Mirror received a anonymous heartfelt plea for more attention to small productions from the Fringe of Boston theatre scene. A straw poll of various theatre folk elicited a common response, "what fringe?".
Fringe theatre operations have commonly fallen into two categories:
groups who do their own thing a few times a year, be it verse drama, plays by their membership or what have you, or
startup operations involving young people trying to get their own particular hold in the broader theatre scene, often through avant-garde presentations.
Boston actually has developed a few of the latter in the past few seasons. Several have produced work well worth noticing over at the Charlestown Working Theatre, notably
Molasses Tank, which has the longest track record,
Whistler in the Dark, which is currently across town using the Downstage Black Box at the Arsenal Center for the Arts in Watertown,
Imaginary Beasts which works out of the Lynn Center for the Arts but will produce this summer in Watertown.
There's also Mill 6 which produced over at the Theater Coop but is now seen at the Devanaughn space in the Piano Factory.
And Devanaughn itself has pushed the envelope a few times.
The oldest Fringe theatre, of course, is world-touring Pilgrim, which is the only such group to appear at the BCA recently.
Theatre Offensive, with its specialized aims should also be noted.

There have also been some fringe productions over at Boston Playwrights', generally done by artists who've done more conventional work there.
The refurbished Durrell Hall at the Cambridge YMCA has yet to attract any true avant-garde, unless you count several visits by Peter Schuman's unique Bread and Puppet shows, which this season opted to try using the BCA's cyclorama.
Brian Tuttle's 11:11 group brought some under-rehearsed Shakespeare in there but has generally done his original rather realistic youth-angst pieces starting up the four flights at the Actors' Workshop on Summer Street.
And over in Chelsea, TheatreZone has soldiered on, generally producing established scripts in their converted OldFellows Hall, which now has its elevator. They are really only a "Fringe" operation geographically, but are now really worth making the trip to Chelsea Sq.--- it's a triangle --- street parking is adequate even if public transportation at night can take a while.

The lack of a truly low-budget space at the revamped BCA is a disappointment. The rehearsal halls on the second floor of the Calderwood are not in themselves that expensive to rent, but participation in the Boston Theatre Scene box office has a cost which groups have found prohibitive. That's one reason why Rough & Tumble hasn't been seen there this season.

The church halls downtown which were the seedbed of Boston Theatre for years aren't generally available.
Whistler in the Dark did manage to tour a show based on Dario Fo/Franca Raime monologues around to a series of nightspots with varying success. Other groups might well consider such a route.
And of course Ryan Landry and the Gold Dust Orphans have been established at the Machine for quite a while.

The IRNE's problem with dealing with much of this activity is time, compounded by lack of information.
Most of us do review the listings, but these frequently come too late. Surfing the Web from site to site provides more information, but gets time-consuming especially when information about a current production isn't somewhere obvious on the opening page.
Groups need to make more use of advanced notice opportunities like the NETheatre 411 website, and to send out press notices and timely followups well in advance. Our interests vary and increased activity in Boston Theatre often makes it unlikely that any one reviewer can get to see half of what's on in a timely fashion.

Perhaps it's time for groups such as those noted above to create a common "webpage", where their press releases can be posted. It would be easy enough to set up a free group blog on Blogger. Since this service is part of Google it would also have the advantage of being part of any active search. Might be something to try out for the second Fever Fest coming up this August over at the Cambridge MultiCultural Art Center 23-25.

Date: Sat, 28 Apr 2007 17:37:08 -0400
From: "Caroline Ellis" clbellis@earthlink.net
Subject: attaching review of Ego and Oracle

I am attaching the review now in case you don't want to be bothered with it before that early procedure on Monday. But your health comes first. I hope I will see you at the Marathon in fine shape.

I myself am doing well. Not reviewing much, I admit. (The day job keeps me busy, and because I like it, I don't as often feel I MUST do something more interesting -- like write a review.) But one day I was reading the plaintive note on your site from a small-small-theater person who bemoaned the fact that small-small theaters always lose out to big small theaters in the IRNE awards, and they have the devil of a time getting reviewed. Shortly after reading that, "The Ego and the Oracle" asked if I would review, and I said yes. I really do think it is important to review the small-small theaters bcs so much great stuff happens there, but they are never going to win IRNE awards because the handful of voters see the bigger theaters' shows in greater numbers, and if they adore something in a small-small, chances are another IRNE critic has not seen that one but has seen another one s/he adores. So both the small-small productions each get one vote. I hope you do well on Monday. I will send you good vibes.



Date: Tue, 24 Apr 2007 17:53:44 -0700 (PDT)
From: Brian Quint mrbrianquint@yahoo.com
Subject: more on that walkout at ART Hi Larry,
Here's the Backstage article on the walkout, with a bit more information..The pieces of the puzzle don't all fit, but at least there is more on which to chew.

Date: Mon, 23 Apr 2007 12:21:35 -0400
From: norfolk1a@aol.com
Subject: Please Post

Hi Larry,
Just wanted to inform the audiences and artists of the Boston Theatre Community that an artist visiting our city suffered a chilling experience during a show last Thursday night.

While performing his monologue Invincible Summer at Zero Arrow, Mike Daisey was interrupted when 87 members of a Christian group stood up and walked out. Then one of the walk-outs approached the desk at which Daisy performs and proceeded to pour water all over the desk, including Daisey's handwritten notes.

It is an uncomfortable and scary event for an artist. I saw the show last night and I can tell you that Mr. Daisey is a talented performer who makes a true effort to engage with his audience. In a weird coincidence, one of the subplots of his Invincible Summer is about blind ideology.

If possible, I would hope our community can reach out to Mike by either supportive words or by seeing his performances which run for another few weeks.

You can see the video of the walkout here at the American Rep Blog: http://amrep.wordpress.com/2007/04/21/video-of-the-disrupted-performance-of-invincible-summer/

Mike Daisey's account can be found here: http://amrep.wordpress.com/2007/04/20/a-night-to-remember/

Art Hennessey

Date: Thu, 19 Apr 2007 11:08:50 -0400 (EDT)
From: AmyDM@aol.com
Subject: AFD'S Carousel

Dear Mr. Stark, I was not sure where else to send this, but I have some reflections on the recent review of Arlington Friends of the Drama's Carousel. It is fair, as far as I am concerned, for Mr. Rossi to offer negative views of a director's concept, or particular performances. However, I thought criticizing two actors about what they MIGHT do, and comparing a young and very talented actress just starting out to a long time professional NY actress was gratuitous. Other than that, his review of the show itself was fair. I may differ with some of his points, but we are all entitled to our opinions, as they say.

As a Carousel cast member, and AFD member, I took umbrage with Mr. Rossi's comments about "day jobs" and "awkward bodies" and "non dancers." Yes, we all have day jobs. Yes, we are often, in community theater, asked to double parts, dance when we might not be the best dancers, sing parts outside of our voices' comfort zones and squeeze into or swim in costumes made for other actors. And we do it for free! We do it after work, after household chores, after the dog is walked and the kids are put to bed. Why? Because we love theater. We know we can access the same breadth of wonderful plays and musicals as the big boys and girls, even if we don't have the time money and lets be honest, sometimes talent that they do. Mr. Rossi writes as if that's a bad thing. It's not. Community theater is the purest form of theater. It's done by people who simply love theater. We love to see it, do it and be among people who feel the same. I am sorry for Mr. Rossi he sees community theater as second rate. To us, it's an outlet, a passion, a way to play pretend well into adulthood, and a true community experience. Do we like to be good? Of course! The best reward is when we have fun, AND put on a great show. I am sorry that Mr. Rossi thinks we missed the mark with Carousel. That's OK. We would not change a thing about the journey.
Amy DeMarco

Click here to read Rossi's Review



Date: Wed, 11 Apr 2007 09:37:55 -0400 (EDT)
From: Kaykatze@aol.com
Subject: Re: (no subject)

thank you, Larry, for forwarding these letters to me - and I am very much in agreement with the sentiments expressed about the IRNEs going to a few as I have stated year after year - it is our "democratic" voting process that's at fault - we need to work out a system whereby the shows everyone sees are not the only ones that get recognized at our annual event and that those of us who go to many other shows have our voices heard at election time.

thank you, Larry, also for maintaining a space where such a dialogue can occur
. Love,
Kay Bourne


Date: Wed, 11 Apr 2007 11:24:43 -0400
From: "Rich Fahey" richwrong@comcast.net
Subject: From Rich Fahey

Larry -- I am probably more part of the problem than solution I only see 2-3 of the smaller, fringe groups a year. Givenm the resiources the Lyric, Speakeasy and New Rep have, should we be recognizing these smaller groups in their own category? I know we already have many awards, but it is very hard for them to compete at the same table with the larger "small" companuies.

Also: Times are getting tougher not only for the smallest of the small, but everyone. Ask Stoneham Theatre about their lack of press. Gloucester Stage.

It is a problem, alas, everywhere.



Date: Tue, 10 Apr 2007 17:38:29 -0500
From: "Braden Weeks"
Subject: In response to the letterin Mere Opinions

The anonymous writer of the letter in Mere Opinions asks, “Who is rooting for the little guys?” After three years producing independent theater (I refuse to call it small, for it belittles the hard work and ingenuity put into producing shows with a smaller budget), I am sad to say that only a meager handful do. The Larry Starks are the rarity in this town. However, I do not blame critics and awards for the suffering state of independent theatre in Boston, no I look towards the artists themselves. Stay with me…

For any artistic scene to evolve, a community must be started first. And that community must begin with the artists themselves. During the three years AYTB existed, I had seen many noble attempts to unite the independent theatre companies into a movement. However, when the tough got going, when it would become work, when it moved from energetic and idealistic thoughts to reality, it would fall apart. It is often easier to bitch and moan, then it is to make a commitment to create a community that supports itself and puts itself out there. The scene in Boston is a tree with branches but no roots.

And it is for this reason that the independent companies are falling to the wayside month-by-month. It will never survive unless there is a movement within the theatre artists to make a difference.

For instance, the MIT situation. The independent theatre scene lost its most beneficial rehearsal space. For weeks, I read posts on Theater Mirror, expressing despair about the loss. Noting how sad it was that the selfish and childish acts of one group brought an end to one the greatest financial assets (free rehearsal space) the independent theatres had. Did the companies who used the space without breaking the rules band together and try to rectify the situation? Did they go to MIT and try, as a united front, to work out the situation? My guess… no.

The problem with Boston is that people think the art is enough. Not true.

It is a business and it needs to have people willing to lead it. And those leaders should be the independent theatre companies themselves. Too many times do I read notes from independent companies and artists blaming critics. Yes critics help, but they do not make or break companies. If critics were the sole reason art survives, then explain to me how Wild Hogs was the number one movie in America? Critics? No… it was the business of art. And part of that business is creating a community that tirelessly puts itself out there and demands attention and generates an excitement for independent companies. Do that and the critics will follow.

Also, blame gets thrown to the larger, more established companies. That they squeeze the independents out. Why would they have to? The independent companies are already doing that amongst themselves. There is no backbone to the independent scene. They all wait for a savior, a “hero for theater”. And as they wait… more companies disappear. Stop waiting and be your own heroes.

I hope that one day the independent theatre scene takes off in Boston. That the existing and future independent companies learn from the mistakes of those that fell. Until then, history will repeat itself and the situation will not improve. The secret to change lies in one word: unite. Become a community not just a group of companies.
Braden Weeks
Former Producing Director of AYTB Theatre


Date: Tue, 10 Apr 2007 06:17:18 -0700 (PDT)
From: Robert Bettencourt rob_bett@yahoo.com
Subject: Hey Larry Response to the new Mere Opinion

Hey Larry,
I hope that you are feeling well and that you are recovering from the writer's block that you had been experiencing earlier.

As someone who also works in the small theater community I felt a sense of relief that finally someone was seeing the IRENE awards as I saw them. But I also felt sadden because I know what the writer of the letter was saying was indeed true. Small theaters are in deep trouble. Opportunities for small theater companies are dwindling and with it a lot of artistic and creative people are going unnoticed.

For a while I have felt that the Independent Reviewers of New England have not supported small theater companies (of course, Larry I know that you do your very best to support as much small theaters as you can and I am always appreciative when I see you at one of my shows.) But the reviewers are not consistently attending small theaters unless your name is Lyric Stage, SpeakEasy or Huntington. (Can someone for the love of God tell me how the Huntington is a small theater company?)

I think that because the IRENE Awards only cater to an exclusive group of theater companies it makes the Awards meaningless, at least in my perspective. I also don't understand why the IRENE reviewers would not support fringe theater as the letter indicates? I mean I would think that out of all the theater that is being done in Boston Independent Reviewers would want to support that type of theater that is not being supported by the big newspapers (Globe, Hearld and Metro). That does not make sense to me.

And I also echo that feeling of hurt when I see first hand the hard and inventive work of small theater companies and artists going unnoticed. Although I was thrilled to see Annimus Ensemble getting a nod, that was not the only group in my estimation that did work deserving of a nod.

No, Larry I did not send you the letter, if I had I would have put my name to it. But the theater heroes are needed and soon. Because one of these days you will get an email in mere opinions asking where have all the small theaters gone and that will be a sad day indeed.
My Best to you always,

The letter below arrived in my snail-mail mailbox Friday.
It came in an envelope with no return address, and it had no salutation, no signature nor
return-address --- in fact, its one page looked very much like Page TWO of a letter the
first page of which is missing.
Sometimes I upload things unsigned or with pseudonymns, but I always insist that I Myself
know where it came from.
Still, the sentiments in this missive sound sincere, and I think they deserve thinking
over and responding and arguing about.
Here, you decide for yourself:

Here is the situation. The Globe and the Herald's major editors are gone. The Herald no longer has any theatre reviewer at all. The Globe just lost another good one this week to Oregon. The Banner lost a local hero Kay Bourne. Fringe start-up space --- once called the Leland Center at the BCA is no longer. Small companies are also falling by the wayside. Foundations are supporting less and less in the arts and even less in theatre.

The Independent Reviewers of New England no longer recognize fringe theatre. The smallest company to win an IRNE award this year (with 2 exceptions) was SpeakEasy Stage who won over 10 awards. One exception was Our Place Theatre whose award winning production was sponsored by the Huntington Theatre as part of the African American Theatre Festival. The other was Annimus Ensemble's choreographer, the only real "small" company to take an award at all. Still the show was LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS. As a matter of fact, SpeakEasy, New Rep and Lyric cleaned up in the category of "Small Company." It is no wonder that we miss the likes of Sugan, Rough and Tumble, and Basement on a Hill. The diversity of awards was saddening as was the diversity in the crowd the night of the ceremony.

It is true that I do work for a small theatre in Boston. It is also true that I am hurt not to be recognized for important work. I am hurt for all my colleagues who dare to do really important and challenging work in the theatre. People constantly ask me why I stay in Boston. They want to know why I don't pack up and take the work to the Bay Area, Chicago or even NYC. I grew up here and I feel I owe something to this city. I love Boston. I'm not surprised by what is happening.

I want to know, who is rooting for the little guys now? I want to know that there is still an appreciation for artistic integrity, risk taking and gutsy black-and-blue performance.
Check the budgets. The Theater Mirror didn't even review our last show. [THEN THREE LINES IN ITALICS:]

Dear Theatre heroes,

We need you now. We just can't last much longer like this. Please help.

--Boston's Fringe Theatres

Will the author of this cry for help please identify yourself, so I may respond?
I will keep your identity secret if you prefer.

[MORE] Comments on This Year's IRNE Party:

Date: Thu, 05 Apr 2007 10:58:16 -0700 (PDT)
From: Jackie Davis jackiedavis98250@yahoo.com
Subject: Late but not little! Hello Larry!
Wasn't March 19th just yesterday???
I'm so bummed that I couldn't come to the award ceremony, as I was in rehearsals for Body & Sold, what a great project! I want to finally thank you and the IRNE panel for nominating me for choreography for Caroline or Change. The recognition does not go unappreciated. I had a wonderful time with the cast and entire Speakeasy team. And yay, Merle, Jacqui Parker, Gail and Speakeasy for your well-deserved wins!!!

Date: Tue, 20 Mar 2007 16:04:05 -0400
From: "Maryann Zschau" mz@sonarewinds.com
Subject: Thank you from Maryann Zschau

Dear Larry and the entire IRNE committee,
Just a quick note to say thank you to each of you that voted for me and ultimately honored me with the Best Supporting Actress in a Musical award. As I said in my speech, this third award you have given me meant a great deal as it came to me as a result of working at Reagle Players for Bob Eagle, who gave me my first professional break after being in Nunsense for three years.
Thoroughly Modern Millie was a delight and I was thrilled that you honored its directors, Frank Roberts and Troy Magino as well.
I hope to be doing one or two shows this summer so I will see you all at the theater. Thanks for continuing to do what you do - this is one actor who truly appreciates it.
With joy,
Maryann Zschau


Date: Wed, 21 Mar 2007 20:14:26 -0400
From: dmsf10@aol.com
Subject: Re: Personal Note from Donna S.not for the Mirror

PS Glad it was such a success AND was thrilled that my good friends Paul Kreppel and Murphy won for the show they directed/produced THe Two and Only. And Jay, of course, has quite a unique, wonderful talent.
Best, Donna S


Date: Thu, 22 Mar 2007 09:51:36 -0400
From: "Neil Graham" Neil.Graham@wchnet.com
Subject: IRNE Nominations

Wanted to take a moment to thank you again for my nomination (best actor in a musical) – While of course I am disappointed I was not selected, I can take solace in the fact that I DID win “best foliage in a theatrical production” J
The awards were very well organized and Animus and myself had a wonderful time.
Hope to see you again during one of my other upcoming projects.
Neil E Graham


I think as an IRNE Voter I can say the committee takes pride in its pledge of No Discrimination Whatever to famous rock stars, Regardless of Condition of Foliage!
(Insert wry emoticon of your choice here!)


Haha – Thank you for being a trellis of hope for us all!
See you soon!
Neil E Graham


Date: Thu, 22 Mar 2007 11:28:57 -0400
From: maureen keiller keiller@comcast.net
Subject: IRNE Awards!

Larry, I would like to extend my gratitude to the IRNE committee for so generously honoring Speakeasy's production of The Women. Having been a part of that show is one of the highlights of my professional life and to be recognized for something I am so proud of is gratifying indeed. I am especially thrilled that we won for the best ensemble, since working together on The Women really was one big love fest! Thank you all so much for the IRNE's you bestowed upon us and thank you for your continued support of the arts. I am so grateful to be a part of this wonderful community of artists and it is marvelous that the Independent Reviewers appreciate the work we do.
Thank you, thank you and thanks once more.
Very truly yours, Maureen Keiller


Date: Mon, 19 Mar 2007 23:44:47 -0400
From: Sean McGuirk seanmcguirk@mac.com
Subject: IRNE Awards

Mr. Stark,
I hope you can relay my thanks to the IRNE committee for the nomination. I was honored to be mentioned and certainly appreciate the support I have felt from the committee for my efforts on the Boston stage. Truly, Sean McGuirk


Date: Tue, 20 Mar 2007 11:37:34 -0400
From: donna dmsf10@aol.com
Subject: Personal Note from Donna S.

Dear Larry, Beverly and Boston's Irne Group
I teach on Monday nights and had to miss the awards. I was so sorry about that as I think it's wonderful how the event has grown and garnered the respect of the community. (I'm always so impressed that you all actually SEE ALL THE PLAYS around.) Thank you all again for the reviews of "More Than What." The good reviews everywhere actually did get us a larger audience for the last few shows. Sorry, Beverly, I didn't really get to talk with you much after the show the night you were there. (I don't have Bev's email) but again, your words and support are always appreciated.

Perhaps, Larry, you can forward this to the others - Jules/Beverly, etc., as I don't know how to contact them on this thing.

Thanks again for coming and paying attention and sorry I've had to miss the awards. Best to you all, Donna Sorbello


Date: Tue, 20 Mar 2007 14:45:08 -0400
From: "Aguillon, Michelle M" michelle.m.aguillon@bankofamerica.com
Subject: IRNE's

Hello Larry! I’m sorry I didn’t get a chance to go back to your table last night to say hello. Metro Stage, Turtle Lane, and Hovey sat together and we had a great time, as per usual. Did you have fun? It was great to see a piece of the docu-film!
See you soon,


Date: Tue, 20 Mar 2007 16:58:10 -0400
From: "Julie Arvedon" jarvedon@nsmt.org
Subject: Thank you!

Hi Larry- Thank you so much for a wonderful evening last night at the IRNE awards. Everyone at North Shore Music Theatre had a terrific time and we were extremely honored to be recognized by the IRNE committee for our 2006 productions. I also really enjoyed the teaser of your film- I can’t wait to see the completed piece!

Thank you again and I look forward to seeing you on opening night of “Crazy For You” on April 26th. Take care- Julie Arvedon, North Shore Music Theatre


Date: Wed, 21 Mar 2007 07:39:16 -0700 (PDT)
From: PAUL KREPPEL paulkreppel@sbcglobal.net
Subject: IRNE Awards!

What a thrill for us to read today that THE TWO AND ONLY received the Best Visitng Production (small venue) Award!!
We are so very honored... we had no idea we were even nominated!
How does that work? When were the nominations announced? Was A.R.T. notified?
Just wanted to know.... If we had been aware, Jay would have tried to arrange to be there for the awards.
Thanks again to IRNE for this great honor. Best,
Paul Kreppel,

visit: www.thetwoandonly.com and www.thebigvoice.com


MIT Cracks down on "Trespassing" theater companies
using campus spaces as rehearsal-rooms.

Date: Thu, 01 Mar 2007 07:15:05 -0800 (PST)
From: Julie jplevene2004@yahoo.com
Subject: THE DIG

Hi Larry,
I saw this when I picked up the Dig last night and I see it's online too...
David put things pretty eloquently, I thought.

Date: Tue, 27 Feb 2007 12:14:37 -0500
From: Kristin MacDougall Kristin.MacDougall@mwra.state.ma.us
Subject: MIT discussion

Dear Mr. Stark,
Thank you for opening the discussion about the MIT situation. I have been thinking about this for a long time. It's upsetting to see my friends lose a safe, accessible space to work.

(If I may be presumptuous and include myself:) in my humble opinion, we, the local independent theater community, must NOT protect the individuals who are responsible for the original, inappropriate confrontation with MIT students/police.

Whomever is responsible should come forward on their own and publicly apologize to MIT. It's the classy thing to do. It's the right thing to do. It's the high road.

Every time I ask a friend or colleague "what *exactly* happened, I get
A) stonewalled about whom is responsible
B) an offensive schpeil about how the big, bad MIT police barged into rooms and forced theater groups to leave the MIT premises.

Friends, blaming the MIT police for doing their jobs is NOT GOING TO HELP. It is one of the most misguided smear tactics I have ever seen in person.

Let's assume that the original confrontation was probably a simple mistake made by some overtired individuals. Without a proper apology and and a united effort to come to an agreement,
A) the MIT situation will never be resolved
B) similar organizations with space will likely follow suit in formally closing their doors to squatters.

With love and respect to all,
Kristin Mac

Date: Wed, 21 Feb 2007 13:12:49 -0500
From: "Jenna Scherer" jscherer@weeklydig.com
Subject: MIT Theatre crackdown

Hi Larry,
I’m from the Weekly Dig, and we’re looking into doing an investigative piece on the debacle at MIT 50 Vassar Street. I know you posted an email from the anonymous theatre company who had a run-in with the police on your website, and I was wondering if you would be able to put me in contact with this person. Any help would be greatly appreciated.
Jenna Scherer


To: "Jenna Scherer" jscherer@weeklydig.com
Subject: Re: MIT Theatre crackdown

Frankly, Jenna, I have no confidence in the DIG's ability (or your own) to say ANYTHING significant or accurate about theater in Boston.
I'll send this privately to someone from the company in question --- more as a warning than as an invitation for them to contact you.
If they do, it will be THEIR decision, not mine.
===Larry Stark

Date: Fri, 16 Feb 2007 05:41:14 -0800 (PST)
From: Julie jplevene2004@yahoo.com
Subject: a mere opinion...

Dear Larry,
I read that anonymous letter about MIT ... Thanks to the attitude problem or anger management issues of one group's member whoever s/he is (may that person learn the virtues of humility and respect for places they're not authorized to be), the crackdown creates an environment where small theatre companies have to operate under conditions of larger theatre companies, but generally without any large grants and donations that could support it. As for me and Way Theatre Artists, it leaves us with the option of finding one or two places and carving out a budget to pay the rent for roughly 60 hours of rehearsals at said places .... ouch .... not to mention working around the spaces' existing schedules of events as well as the schedules of roughly a dozen folks involved in Lughnasa. It also leaves me with one very attractive alternative, albeit costly ... to buy or rent a live/work loft and make my home into a rehearsal hall. Murphy bed, folding table and chairs, whatever it takes. The bright side is it will be chock full of props and set pieces. The downside is that live/work lofts cost about $300K in the Boston area and rent for close to $2000/month. So realistically I don't know how feasible that is. But it is a dream. That's what I love about theatre. A girl can dream.
Love and thanks,
Julie Levene

Date: Wed, 14 Feb 2007 06:13:21 -0800 (PST)
From: Robert Bettencourt rob_bett@yahoo.com
Subject: Read the Sudden News

Hi Larry,
I read the sudden news of the ousting of theatre companies by MIT 50 Vassar Street. This is a huge blow to the small theater community. I don't think that full realization will be felt for a few more months. And I really think this will close down a few companies that don't have the money for rehearsal space. It takes thoughtless people to ruin a good thing for everyone else. I cannot believe it. It would have seemed that there was enough support within the small theatre community to make sure that everyone could enjoy the free space that MIT was providing by looking the other way. I myself have been thrown out of spaces in MIT countless times. We just pack up apologize and find another space. The 8th floor hallway is usually quiet and I have had many productive rehearsals there.

I hope the company that threaten the MIT group is the first to close, they deserve it and I hope they are happy for they are responsible for putting many companies out in the street.

This sudden news arrived by e-mail:

Date: Tue, 13 Feb 2007 10:11:20 -0800 (PST)
Subject: Farewell MIT

For those who were not present last night, 4 large police officers entered the rehearsal room and asked to speak with the leader of the group out in the hallway, then surrounded me in the hallway.

I explained our group, our reason for being there, and answered their questions --- basically leading them to uncover that we have no MIT affiliation that legitimizes our presence in the building.

I explained my research into the ability to use the space, how it's been a tremendous benefit to small theatre for years and years, and how we would never deny a legit MIT group use of a room, let alone threaten them - as the police said a group had. This extermination of all non-MIT affiliated groups was brought about by a theatre group that apparently threatened a legit MIT-affiliated group when they tried to claim rights to a room the non-MIT'ers were using. The MIT group reported them and MIT called the police to get rid of all squatters.

They were very nice, asked for my drivers license and wrote down all my information. Then told me to have everyone leave within 10 minutes and not return unless I have special permission from the buildings scheduling office at MIT.

The officers said they're compiling a list of all the groups using the space and reporting back to MIT Thursday at a meeting with the administration and from now on, if anyone is caught using any of the premises who is not scheduled through the MIT office (i.e. MIT-affiliated groups), a friendly warning and ousting will not be the only outcome.

Anywho.... the good news is we weren't arrested for trespassing.

I have a few feelers out for space (two are near Porter Square T stop) and we have a contigency plan in place. Given the search for space, we are not meeting tomorrow Wednesday 2/14 (Happy Valentine's Day) and we'll resume rehearsal on Monday at 7pm at a space to be determined.

Have cc'd a few artistic director friends so they know the score. At $15-$20 per hour for rehearsal space, this certainly hurts the wallet. A setback for the family of small theatre companies in Boston for sure. Anyone up for enrolling in an MIT course to be MIT-affiliated. Factor that into our budgets?

For more commentary, read Art Hennessey's Blog


Date: Sat, 10 Feb 2007 08:29:53 -0800 (PST)
From: Zeropoint Production admin@zpboston.com
Subject: Re: Wrote thius this morning

Hi Larry,
I read you open letter to the governor?

Any reply? I hope your not holding your breath.

Larry, ... they don't care. Not that they don't want to, or that it would be to much trouble or anything else, simply put Democrat/Republican they don't care. Can you imagine him coming out and saying he is going to be putting money into "The ARTS"!!! He'd be roasted alive. If he does respond, I'm sure he will have his excuses...Money is an issue, needs more time....

The only ones that will help us, is us ourselves.I would challenge every theater company that complains about not being able to find seats to answer the question "Well what have you done to fill your seats" and the better question "when is the last time you have done something to help some other theater company fill their seats".

Can you imagine if we in theater community bounded and we all tried to help each other fill our houses. I have done everything I can to see as many small theater shows in the last couple months. I have scheduled three shows to see in the next month alone. When I go, I don't go alone. I make phone call and grab as many people from my company as possible to go with me. Now what if all members of the Boston theater company did this?

I'd like to make a challenge to find 100 people total from different theater companies that would be willing to join into such a group. Every weekend we split up and try to go see some new opening show. Maybe we could add 20-30 seats to a small show.

I'll give you the first ten from my company.

Yes, there are many excuses as to why members of the theater company would not go, Money, time,...Same excuses as our Governors would be.

Lets look past the excuses and lets support ourselves!

Date: Fri, 26 Jan 2007 05:56:55 -0800 (PST)
From: Robert Bettencourt rob_bett@yahoo.com
Subject: Loved your Letter

Hi Larry,
I loved reading your letter and I hope that it gets the attention to deserves from the Governor.

It also made me think about how many theaters there are now in Boston, and how many have been lost since your count of 93 theaters. Well, we lost three this year so that is down to 90 theaters? But I would bet you that the count is even lower. Although new theater companies cropped up year after year I doubt it has kept pace or has out paced the theater companies that have or will close because of lack of audience and lack of funds. I hope that the Governor will be able to turn around the Art fund cuts that his predecessor deemed necessary in past years.

I have even started thinking about sending my writing out of state for consideration because the lack of support for local playwrights is dismal at best. And the support that the Huntington promised with the opening of the Caldorwood Pavilion is not existent --- as I had quietly predicted.

Larry Stark
125 Amory Street #501
Roxbury 02119 MA larry@theatermirror.com

Governor Deval Patrick
The State House
Boston MA

My Dear Governor Patrick:

First, congratulations on becoming Governor. I regard your election victory as a stirring opportunity for change in the way our government conducts the public's business. I voted for you --- and now I want something. Not a lot --- a pittance, really --- but something that has been close to my heart most of my life: serious attention to the state and needs of the arts, in specific the art of live theater. I learned from the New York TIMES last Sunday that the New York Transportation Authority uses 0.5 to 1% of a subway station's rehabilitation budget for works of public art.

In your next budget, can you try to devote a similar percentage of the total expenditure of State monies to the arts --- and to earmark a significant part of that pittance for the encouragement of live theatrical performances in Massachusetts?

As I said, a pittance, but money that could spell the difference between success and failure. Boston lost three highly respected and award-winning theater companies this year, and in every case money was a factor in the decision to close --- even though they were companies "subsidized" by actors and directors working more for love than for money. These "poor theatres" confronted a deadly circle: they couldn't pay their bills without more dependable, larger audiences; they couldn't attract more eyeballs without paying for outreach and advertising; they couldn't buy ads without more box-office revenue --- and around and around and around and ... they closed.

Someone should find a way to cut that vicious circle.

I have two suggestions; dog-eared and familiar though they are, YOU have not heard them, and I trust you to give them some thought.

Since expanding audience --- putting asses on empty seats, and increasing general awareness of a company's existence --- is a key to Providing the bootstraps to pull themselves up, I'd like to see you create a fund, not for grants, but for LOANS. I'd like to see these poor theatres offered a chance to Borrow money to use for two years exclusively on audience expansion, and to pay it back by the end of the term. Let them define the problem and the solution, and then send the money back to be available to other companies as their box-offices begin to feel the results. That's my first idea.

But a company working on a shoestring, whose staffs and casts all have "day-jobs" and families, cannot always spare the time to design and implement a useful outreach campaign, to set "marketing strategies" that will guarantee biggest bang for each advertsing buck; to alert the people of Massachusetts that this is a center of theatrical activity unnoticed in its scope and its vitality.

Mr. Governor, if you felt like relaxing with a show tonight, after another hard day doing the people's business, how many active theatres do you think you'd be able to choose from? Well, in Boston alone --- within T-reach from your State House office --- I found NINETY-THREE, and that number is out of date and low. And that's only in One City. Since this is already a healthy financial resource, encouraging as it does "dinner, drink, and a show" activity for most patrons, its economic impact on your state is obvious, and should be encouraged to expand.

What I propose is that you hire a knowledgable theater-marketing expert whose duty every day would be two things: 1) to call one theater company every day and ask how she (most p/r people are ladies) could advise or otherwise help their marketing/p-r/advertising efforts improve; and 2) to work toward making America (and her visitors arriving at Logan Airport) aware of the richness and variety of theatrical wealth in the Commonwealth--- by whatever means possible.

Frankly, since you are dealing every day with a multiBillion-dollar state budget, my request for a half of one percent slice of that pie set aside for the arts is ridiculously large. I'm willing to see that slice shrink. But I am not willing to see it disappear. More importantly, I am not willing to watch your government again toss us the "one-size-fits-all" funding for all "Cultural Affairs" projects. I know that organizing an ethnic-oriented parade costs little but has bigger political bang. I know that people like you (and my knee-surgeon) think that $90-dollar tickets to a visiting production in "The Theatre District" is the only "real theater" in Boston. But I know that The Theatre Cooperative, The Sugan Theatre Company, and The AYTB Theatre Company deserved as much a claim on your attention as did "Spamalot" --- but were just too poor to slug it out with those big boys from down south.

Can you afford a pittance that could spell the difference between life and death?

I hope so.

===Anon. ( a k a larry stark )


This quote is actually from a comic-book --- Issue # 3 (of six) of THE ESCAPISTS, made by Brian K. Vaughan (words), Steve Rolston & Jason Shawn Alexander (pictures), Dave Stewart & Matt Hollingsworth (colors) and Tom Orzechowski (lettering), published/distributed by DARK HORSE Comics Inc. --- but it is a universal truth that I think everyone can empathize with.
The writer of a comic-book just read the first critical word about their group-effort, and sits, dazed, musing on it:

"The two of them went on and on about all reviewers being frustrated artists, and the worthlessness of opinions, and contemporary biases against superheroes...

...But all I heard was 'amateurish' and 'laughable' .

I know it sounds whiny, but if you've never gotten a bad review before, you have no idea what a unique kind of heartbreak it is.

And I'm not talking about getting constructive criticism from your seventh grade teacher ... I'm talking about a complete stranger telling other copmplete strangers that something you've been carrying inside you for months is STILLBORN.

I've lost both of my parents, so I would never say that this was the worst pain I've ever felt ...


I would never say that."

Unless you buy the comic, you can't see the guy's face as this interior monologue unreels.
But you've seen that face, on other actors, haven't you?
I have.

===Larry Stark

Date: Wed, 13 Dec 2006 18:58:31 -0500
From: "Chris Polo" cpolo@communitytheater.org
Subject: Author - Night Before Opening

Just wanted to let you know that I'm the author of "Twas the Night Before Opening," not Don Gillis -- I imagine he did a copy and paste and sent it to you. Several of my other humor pieces have gotten lifted from my site and circulated without proper credit (particularly "You Know You Work in Community Theater If..."), so this time I thought I'd deter that by putting the following notice at the bottom of the piece, but it looks like it was ignored:
Twas the Night Before Opening, by Chris Polo. © 2006 Community Theater Green Room, www.communitytheater.org. May not be reprinted without permission. Please include this copyright notice if you share this with others.
Here's the URL of the original:

I consider it a huge compliment that you thought it was good enough to share with your readers -- thank you!
Chris Polo
Community Theater Green Room
www.communitytheater.org Community Theater Green Room Originals

365 Days/365 Plays
by Suzan-Lori Parks

TheatreZone presents Week 7 of this year long national festival.

365 Plays/365 Days, Week 7
Saturday December 30 at 8:00, Admission is Free!
Chelsea Theatre Works, 189 Winnisimmet St., Chelsea.

Reservations are highly recommended.
Tickets can be reserved by calling (617) 887-2336 or by email to: tickets@theatrezone.org.
Information and directions at www.theatrezone.org.

On November 13, 2002, Pulitzer-prize winner Suzan-Lori Parks got an idea to write a play a day for a year. She began that very day, finishing one year later. The resulting play cycle, called 365 Days/365Plays, is a daily meditation on an artistic life. Some plays are very short, less than a page. Others last forever. The 365 National Festival is a grassroots premiere of Suzan-Lori Parks’ 365 Days/365 Plays. Participating theaters each present seven plays, representing one week of this play cycle, before then passing the cycle on to the next theater in a cultural relay race that links hundreds of artists around the US and beyond. Produced by Bonnie Metzgar and Suzan-Lori Parks, the 365 Festival will be performed from November 13, 2006 through November 12, 2007.

TheatreZone will be staging Week 7, Dec. 25-31, for the Northeast region. Six directors and a cast of over 20 local actors will present an informal staging of the 7 short plays followed by a year-end celebration at the Chelsea Theatre Works.

A collection of Greater Boston theatre companies and universities will each put their own stamp on Parks' plays this coming spring and fall when they participate in the national 365 Days/365 Plays initiative. Boston companies will tackle two more sets of consecutive weeks in the spring and the fall, resulting in mini-festivals that celebrate Parks' efforts. Companies included: Company One, The Lyric Stage Company, New Repertory Theatre, The Nora Theatre, and Zeitgeist Stage, among others. More details will be announced in January. Please contact co-Boston area Hub Partners bevinogara@newrep.org or rebecca_curtiss@lyricstage.com with questions about regional participation.

Date: Sat, 09 Dec 2006 19:49:52 -0500
From: "Don Gillis" dongillis@cox.net
Subject: Fw:

Twas the Night Before Opening Written by CHRIS POPO

T'was the night before opening, and all through the house,
Not an actor was ready, the crew was half-soused.
The chorus was moving as if made of lead,
And the steps they had practiced had fled from their heads.
The lead lost his lines while the ingénue napped,
And the tech in the light booth would not shut his yap .

When out in the lobby arose such a clatter,
I sprang from my seat, and the cast and crew scattered.
I threw down my notes, and with temper unchecked,
Loudly cursed the grim day I agreed to direct.
To the lobby I flew in a flash, maybe faster
To deal with this latest la st-minute disaster.

I stumbled into an astonishing scene:
There parked by the bar was a stretch limousine!
Seven handsome chauffeurs posed in artful alignment,
Brows arched and lips pursed in the utmost refinement.
They turned toward the limo, the door opened wide,
And a dapper old fairy stepped down from inside.
He was dressed all in black with a gold walking stick,
And I knew in an instant it must be Old Vic!

With a flick of his wrist and a hint of a smirk,
He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work.
He sent his companions to fix up my play,
And the fairy dust flew as each one pranced away.

"On Pacing! On Timing!
On Cue! Motivation!
On Lines! And on Blocking!
On Tax-Free Donation!"

It happened at once – we had blocking and lines,
And the timing was perfect, the acting divine!
In spite of the problems the cast and crew weathered,
A miracle happened! It all came together!

Too late I remembered the source of my joy!
I ran to the lobby, but Vic and his boys
Were tucked snug in their limo, which rose like a bird
And I shouted my thanks, but my words went unheard.

The limousine soared, turned to make its last pass,
And I spotted Old Vic through the dark-tinted glass
As he nodded at me, looking stern as a rector,
He signaled thumbs-up to this grateful director.

And I heard him exclaim as they drove out of sight
"Break a leg one and all, SRO every night!"

Shakespeare Hither and Yon - Nov. 13
by Will Stackman

Not so long ago, seeing a play by the Bard hereabouts meant catching a school production or the odd ART extravaganza. There've been a greater number of professional productions recently--and not just in the summer--but collegiate level shows or the equivalent are still abound. Earlier this fall, the MIT Shakespeare group did "The Tempest" --- and 11:11, which tried "Romeo & Juliet" last season will attempt Shakespeare's final play in early Dec. in Durrell Hall. Shakespeare Now!, the local school touring operation, is once again trying a larger scale, longer run production using the auditorium at MassArt. Their "Julius Caesar," which they did a couple of seasons ago at Pine Manor, plays weekday mornings at 10am, and will have one evening show on the 18th. It's an earnest effort with a stalwart cast and collegiate grade borrowed Roman costumes. They've done better. Shakespeare productions have been a staple at our venerable academic institutions for quite a while. Out at Wellesley, there's a small Elizabethan-style building around behind the powerplant which for many years has been the home of the Shakespeare Society, presenting productions in the hall on the second floor.

This year the women in the group are tackling the Bard's gory Roman play, "Titus Andronicus," which runs one more weekend. The director, Trevi Ramirez, has decided to set the show in the Olde West with a cowboys and Indians theme. This conceit aids in staging the ending, but doesn't help sort out the characters early in this rambling saga of onstage murder and/or mutilation. Vocal characterization is minimal with run-on verse from time to time and a dramatic arc hardly develops. It's not an easy script for the best of companies; the most recent Globe production in London relied on butcher shop effects more than acting. It will be interesting to see if the Actors' Shakespeare Project manages to get more out of Will's "Sweeney Todd" when they do it in Spring 2007. Incidentally, they're reported to be planning an all-male production; Wellesley's is of course all-women.

Following 11:11 at Durrell, the Society for Creative Anachronism, which one might think would also tackle "Titus..." or the like, is behind a production of "The Merrywives of Windsor", which Somerville's Theatre@First attempted earlier in the season. Shakespeare & Co. did a breezy version this summer in Elizabethan dress with modern staging. How the MIT based medieval reenactors will deal with the show's obscure period humor and dialects remains to be seen. After the holidays, Boston Theatre Works is doing "A Midsummer Night's Dream" at the BCA, perhaps with a gender-switched Titania. Steven Barkhimer is listed as Bottom. In Feb. Shakespeare & Co. will once again bring another barebones version of the Scottish play nearby, this time at Babson. Stay tuned for further developments.

For reviews by Will Stackman, go to ON THE AISLE at http://profwill.spymac.com

Date: Fri, 10 Nov 2006 05:48:57 -0800 (PST)
From: Julie jplevene2004@yahoo.com
Subject: Richard Gilman

"... drama ought to matter to us as a source of consciousness, that great plays can be as revelatory of human existence as novels or poems, that such plays aren't discrete objects to which we 'go' but analogues of our lives...."

"I only know that I don't want to die as an act purely of nature, of this world ... I want my poor value to exist past me, somewhere else."

- Richard Gilman, theater critic and Yale drama professor
Obituary at

Why we were at rehearsals till almost midnight nightly and all grammar and whatnot thrown to the wind

by anonymous

A whining (yes, whining, please know I don’t want nor relish this tone) stream of consciousness bit on boston theatre as my laundry dries and I clock a vacation day because tech week left me with little brain power left and barely any physical energy after full-on non-stop more-than-a-day-job exhaustion from pricing the impact of healthcare reform (because the altruistic side of me said to work in a job you can sleep at night contributing towards the better good) and rehearsal having us there till almost midnight. Midnight? You say and yes I say because we were behind yes and this happens when actors can’t get paid and have to answer to their source of daytime income and stay late there as needed and if that means be late for rehearsals or not be able to show then so be it in their heads (not in their hearts, we know) because that’s what it takes to survive in boston as a person, not as an actor, but the best actors are people, experiencing life, aren’t they? Or are they?

why boston theatre can never work primarily with boston talent and at the same time be like ny

work for free
work for a stipend that if you’re lucky covers your cell phone bill
audition at night for non-paying gigs
audition in the day for places that think actors ought to be available during the day
in reality the best boston actors are resisting the pull to go to ny or la and may be getting by in some mundane day job just counting the months (not years, heaven forbid) when they could be paid adequately enough for their contribution to boston theatre that they could afford to rely on acting as a sole source of income or at least maybe half of it
boston professional actors defined
actors with income sources that defy logic
available to audition anytime as needed
(Is this sounding like a call to unionize?
It’s not)
Production dilemma
You find a play
Must produce
Have to cast it based on who you know or have seen or who you know has seen
… And their work schedule
Is this workable?
It is what it is
I’m just saying it’s a challenge and a limitation and what’s holding it back?
Each place trying to operate and make a profit
So what if
This is a little radical
But just a place to start a thought process really
What if boston theatre decided to work together
As one giant multinational corporation
(One nation many tribes)
One subsidiary devoted to kids products
One to senior citizen
One to gay and lesbian themes
One to judeo-christian
One to 20-somethings
One to political
One to irish
One to comedy
One to british farce
One to brechtian
And would that mean the success factor would increase?
Not, of course
It’s not a network of clubs
Boston’s better off with each being true to their original calling
Yes of course
(So what’s your point, anonymous writer without the hootspah to name your name)
Maybe the point is there is no point
It is what it is
each trying to reach out and promote theatre to their respective circle of influence and
Just maybe
A season subscription would result

Date: Tue, 11 Jul 2006 23:20:28 -0400
From: "Arthur Hennessey" norfolk1a@hotmail.com
Subject: Mere Opinion- Do We Have A Friend in the State House?

Hi Larry,
Hope all is well.

Do We Have A Friend In the State House?!

With the new ICA opening, and the old one sure to be demolished, we are actually losing another theatre space here in Boston. With The Calderwood's three new spaces, plus Zero Arrow, plus the Watertown Arsenal Center, the newspapers have correctly trumpeted a gain of spaces here in Boston and surrounding environs. But with the loss of the BCA's Leland Center, and now the closing of the ICA Theatre, we could quickly even out as far as affordable spaces for younger or smaller companies goes.

We should reach out to Senate President Robert Travaglini, who represents Boston and Cambridge, because he seems to be willing to go the mat for the importance of the performing arts. After all, as stated in this article in iBerkshires.com, Travaglini is willing to make darn sure that Pittsfield, MA gets their theatre restoration from state funds. The following is from the Article in iberkshires

"Travaglini, a Boston Democrat, was effusive in his praise of both the Colonial’s aesthetic and acoustic accoutrements. Although smaller in size, the Colonial compares well to popular Boston venues such as the Wang Theatre, he said.

"'This is as beautiful as anything in Boston,' he said. 'It’s a great facility.'

"Travaglini said that the Colonial’s history and famed acoustics would draw top-flight performers to Pittsfield. He even promised to spread the word himself, citing music industry connections.

"Perhaps more importantly, Travaglini suggested that he’d carry the torch for continued funding on Beacon Hill. In fact, he shrugged off a recent veto of some state funding for the theatre by Governor Mitt Romney. 'Don’t worry about it,' he said, voicing confidence that the legislature will override the veto." End Quote.

Don't Worry About It? Let's all e-mail Mr. Travaglini and see if he can use some of that State House pull closer to his district. We could ask him to protect, or at least work on replacing, the ICA Theatre.

Maybe we could also get him to work on some type of project similar to the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council's Swing Space Project, in which artists can use temporarily vacant commercial spaces for projects or rehearsals. You can read more about that project at: http://www.lmcc.net/art/swingspace/overview/index.html

After all, as iberkshires reports, "The senate president agreed, noting that business leaders and officials in communities across the state now recognize the importance the arts as an economic engine."

If you want to contact Mr. Travaglini to thank him for his generous appreciation of the value of live performance, and to ask him for help in maintaining and developing performance space in Boston, you can find his website here: http://www.mass.gov/legis/member/ret0.htm
The iberkshires story is at the following link: http://www.iberkshires.com/story.php?story_id=20301

I have also posted a survey of the pricing and costs of the current theatre seasons here in Boston: http://mirroruptolife.blogspot.com/2006/07/subscription-time-following-playgoers.html
Art Hennessey

Date: Mon, 05 Jun 2006 11:06:29 -0400
From: "Arthur Hennessey" norfolk1a@hotmail.com
Subject: Midtown Theatre Cultural Project?

Hi Larry,
I was at a party this weekend and I was talking to somebody who was involved in something called the Midtown Cultural Project? Apparently, it was a group of artists working with developers and the mayors office to include artist space in new development.

Do you remember this?

I am very interested in whether or not this survived, failed, was worthwhile. Maybe some of the mirror readers remember this or were involved.

Could you post this and see if anybody has any info, and how it related to theatre?
Art Hennessey

P.S. Big article in the Globe about the ICA closing, nary a mention about the theatre space we are losing there.

This sounds like something I heard about from Spiro Veloudos.
If it's the same thing, it grew out of a period when several old theatre-buildings along Tremont Street were scheduled for "redevelopment" into things like high-rise condominiums and a huge movie-palace. Arts people got together and complained that the art of theater needed spaces in which to work, and this would deprive the city's artists of several possibilities for work. They banded together, held meetings, lobbied --- and, in a sense, won!
Someone crafted a law saying that if a building containing space used for artistic purpose were demolished, the developer would be required to include in the new structure space intended to Replace the original performing-space.
But you know how laws get made, don't you? As the idea grew in public momentum, the words got altered from "Artistic" to "Cultural" purposes --- which meant that instead of Replacing old theatres with new ones, developers were licensed to allow all sorts of worthy non-performance activities to have a claim on their "cultural spaces". So the theater people who started the ball rolling suddenly became (unsuccessful) petitioners hoping the measure would Not Pass!
But it did.
So, when the ICA does move, the empty building can be given over to any tennant's business plan, so long as some sop to Cultural Use is hung on some public space in the business.
At least that's how I remember it.

Can anyone else shed more light on this? ===Larry Stark

Date: Tue, 23 May 2006 14:25:51 +0000
From: "Chris Cavalier" Subject: Theater Listing: The Blue Room

To whom it may concern
Please remove all listings for The Blue Room, scheduled to open this Thursday, May 25, at the Boston Center for the Arts. The production has been cancelled.
Thank you.
Chris Cavalier
Artistic Director

Okay, Larry Stark here:
In answer to my request for clarification Chris Cavalier sent me a private letter outlining events concerning this production and its closing, which was not for publication.
He did ask that the letter (further down in this string) from Naeemah White-Peppers be removed from The Mirror --- which I feel I cannot do.
In point of fact that letter is the only explanation of "the other side" --- i.e. the views of Susan Gross about the very same production and its aftermath --- that has surfaced here.
What I have done instead is included two letters from cast/company members that pretty much defend the show's Director.
I think the discussion here cannot resolve the controversey, but both sides have had an opportunity to explain themselves, so that partisans hearing whispers and scuttlebut can check Here for slightly more objective facts --- at least under thesmoke and emotion.
But I also think the affair has been covered adequately, and unless some compellingly clear Facts from anyone with the authority to make them might emerge, I consider the matter closed. I have real friends on both sides, I can agree with some of what is said on both sides, and this seems the best final assessment I have heard:

"As creative people, this saddens all of us and no one wins. "

Date: Tue, 23 May 2006 12:11:46 -0700 (PDT)
From: Cassandra Meyer cassandra_meyer@yahoo.com
Subject: The Blue Room

Mr. Stark,
Hello again. You may not remember me, but we have met at several events and productions produced by the 11:11 Theatre Company here in Boston. I am, unfortunately, one of the sad actors whose show (The Blue Room) was shut down three days before our scheduled opening. I am writing to you in effort to better inform you about the circumstances surrounding Ms. Gross' departure from our show. I would also request that you remove Ms. Naeemah White-Peppers comments from your site. While Ms. Naeemah White-Peppers makes a compelling story (and I'm sure she is sincere and honest in her telling of it), unfortunately the things she has been led to believe by Ms. Gross are simply not true.

I do not wish to argue the illegality of the script changes, the letter of the law is clear on that subject. I also fully understand the desire to stand up for one's friends- especially when they are standing alone. While it is important to speak up for oneself and one's beliefs, the intentions behind the actions of Ms. Gross were not the brave and noble ones portrayed on your website.

Ms. Gross was not fired because she challenged the legality of what was being done. That is simply not true. Ms. Gross was asked to leave the show because she was not comfortable with the part and what she was being asked to do. Ms. Gross expressed this to me and other members of the cast- I'm positive that every member of the cast would confirm this if you asked them. Ms. Gross acknowledged that the director did say he enjoyed her as an actress and would like to work with her in the future on a project they were both fully comfortable with. Ms. Gross promptly turned him down. She also told me and other members of the cast that her only regret is that "she was asked to leave before she could quit" and vehemently expressed "that man [the director] doesn't know who he's dealing with- he'll never work here again".

Had Ms. Gross truly been thinking only of the legality of the situation and not her hurt and embarrassed feelings- I should think she would have contacted Samuel French when the first changes were being made- not the week before the show when all her other efforts to pit actor against actor and actor against director had failed.

The sad truth is that while Ms. Gross' actions as being proclaimed as noble- she did what she did not out of honest respect for the law or the work, but out of spite and malice. Her utter lack of respect for the hard work done by the members of the cast and crew- her willingness to destroy the beautiful play they had created in a fit of revenge against a director she disliked- these are truly petty and totally self-serving actions. I have no doubt that Ms. Gross is thrilled the show has been cancelled, not because of noble suggestions in her character, but because she succeeded in causing all of us a great deal of heartbreak and a great financial loss to the company. There is nothing comendable in that.

That being said, I would again respectfully request that you remove the letter posted on your website. I commend Ms. White-Peppers on her integrity and willingness to stand up for her friends- unfortunately she has plainly been deceived in the actual events surrounding the closing of The Blue Room.
Thank you for your time,
Cassandra Meyer

Date: Tue, 23 May 2006 21:20:04 -0400
From: "Nadia Delemeny" nadia@randalltribe.com
Subject: Blue Room

Dear Ms White Peppers, I was the Assistant Director for The Blue Room. I was also the Casting Assistant.

Ms. Gross was fired because she did not have the talent for the role I help cast her in. This became very apparent during the first few days of rehearsal.

Ms Gross was told when she auditioned, that our play was an ensemble piece for 10 actors. She informed us she had never heard of the original script and was excited about the project. The fact that technically, we should not have made any changes is undeniable, but that fact was not a problem for Ms Gross until she was recast.

I understand Ms Gross is a friend of yours and I commend you for standing up for her. I feel sorry for Ms Gross, as I am sure she was very disappointed to lose the role, however, her being so vindictive is not a professional way for any actor to behave and I am sure you would not condone such wilful malice had you known the truth of the situation.

It takes love and inspiration to Create and hatred and darkness to Destroy.

As creative people, this saddens all of us and no one wins.
Nadia de Lemeny


Date: Wed, 24 May 2006 08:14:01 -0700 (PDT) From: "Naeemah A. White-Peppers" nwp97@yahoo.com
Subject: Re: Blue Room
To: Nadia Delemeny nadia@randalltribe.com
Cc: Larry@theatermirror.com

I thank you for your e-mail. As a professional in this business, you must recognize that re-writing of scripts is illegal. In signing his contract with Samuel French, Chris realized this as well.

The Blue Room is a very popular script, well known by critics. Regardless of Susan's actions, once your show opened, and the critics began to write about the re-writes, it would have been closed down anyway. Also, the BCA would have been fined, and every other company that performs in that space could potentially be slapped with restrictions by Samuel French. Theater 4 is a new company, and I imagine that it was your first time using a space like the BCA. It's a community space. Chris Cavalier's blatant disregard for his contract could have put a lot of people in jeopardy. It's not just about his artistic preferences; the greater community would have been affected.

So at the end of the day, it doesn't matter how you or anyone else feels about Susan and her motives, she did the Boston Theater Community a service. And the BCA thanked her for it. Samuel French thanked her for it. David Hare obviously agreed because he was the person who decided to close down the show.

As far as Susan's talent is concerned, she has become quite the prominent actress in Boston over the last 5 years. Chris approached her after seeing her perform to ask her to do his show. He went so far as to promise her a stipend when he was not paying any of the other actors. When he fired her, he asked her to consider working with him again in the future. Does this sound like a reaction to an untalented person. Also, the idea that you can guage the "talent" of an actress in the first couple of rehearsals while the script is changing daily is ridiculous. Susan's talent is not in question here. Chris Cavalier's integrity is.

I'm sorry that things did not work out for you. But if they had, a community could have paid the price. Look past your malice, and see the bigger picture.

Date: Mon, 22 May 2006 14:02:00 -0700 (PDT)
From: "Naeemah A. White-Peppers" nwp97@yahoo.com
Subject: kudos

Hi Larry,
This is Naeemah White-Peppers. I know it's been a long time since you've heard from me. I've run off to Chicago to be swallowed up by mommy hood. We're excited to be expecting our second child in September! I hope the life of a Boston Theatre Critic continues to be fruitful with the lively displays on our many stages.

I'm writing to voice my thoughts on the actions of a courageous Boston actor because I think her story needs to be heard. It's rare in our business that an actor will speak up against a theater or director because we are constantly in fear of soiling our own reputation. In a business where your own personality is as important as your ability to play a character, where people can be black-listed because they vocalize disappointment with an experience - it's a big deal to speak your mind.

Susan Gross was cast in a production of the Blue Room (with Theater 4) with the understanding that she was performing David Hare's piece. In the course of a short rehearsal period, the director (Chris Cavalier) re-wrote a number of the scenes and intentions of the author. While a new actor may think this is common practice, in the professional world we understand it to be illegal. David Miller (Zeitgeist Stage Company) and I have had a few discussions over the years about cuts/edits to scripts. Those conversations always led to requests for permission from the author. Those requests are generally denied. The author has the intellectual authority to decide what story he tells, and to defend that story from being "re-told" using his name.

When Susan questioned the director’s right to change the script, she was fired. She was fired, not because of poor performance, or inability to play the character, but because she questioned his right to perform an illegal action.

To receive the rights to a play, every producer signs a contract that prohibits script changes. This means that the director was not ignorant to the fact that he was committing copyright infringement. He used his authority to manipulate young actors, and to soil the reputation of Susan Gross, whose only wrong was to try to keep him to his contract.

Susan then took the courageous step of contacting Samuel French. The obvious way to clear her name, and to show that what the director did was wrong, was to call him to task for his actions. The only people who could do that were Samuel French. Susan was also generous enough to contact other cast members to make them aware of the situation. She told them that she had been fired for resisting the changes, and encouraged them to read the original script. Her intention was not to catch them off guard, or to surprise them with a final verdict, but to allow them the opportunity to make their own decisions about whether to stick with the project.

Susan was vindicated. The show was shut down. It is unfortunate for the rest of the artists who put a lot of hard work into the project. But, I believe this is a great lesson for those who shy away from speaking up or walking away. Directors and production companies cannot act without regard for the other artists they choose to involve in their productions. A slandered actor; a perjured author; we all have support. We do not have to accept inappropriate decisions for fear of losing our livelihood. There is a place for integrity in this business.

Bravo to Susan Gross! Cheers to you for standing up for integrity.

Date: Tue, 11 Apr 2006 02:59:07 +0000
From: lion4951@comcast.net
Subject: ART

Hi Larry,
I don't know about your being "a strange old man." At a minimum, you're a loveable strange old man. But I also think you must be an old fogey.

Notwithstanding the whining e-mail you received from ART, it is one of the most important resident theater companies in the country. I find the hostility that so many Boston theater people show towards it to be unfathomable.

I've seen every mainstage production that they've done in their history and many of the other ones, and I have been bored out of mind only twice. It's not that all the producitons have been great; it's that they've all (with the two exceptions) been interesting. Take the recent "Romeo and Juliet" (I know you want to add: "Please!"). Did it rank with best Shakespeare that my wife and I had ever seen? No, but it was good and it brought out different aspects of the play. I expected to see a disaster. Instead, I came out shaking my head about the critics and the people who had talked to me about the production. I thought I received more than my money's worth.

People seem to complain the most when ART takes on the classics, particularly Shakespeare. Admittedly, it's chancy if the first production you see of a classic is the ART production. The director is going to take a strong point of view and not let the play "speak for itself." But how many plain vanilla productions of "As You Like It" can one person take? After awhile I want either to avoid it for seven years or go to a production with a different take on it.

ART is a company with a worldwide reputation that occasionally does world-class work. Other companies in the area occasionally do excellent work and often do very good or good work -- like ART. But only ART strives to be world-class.

And, of course, we often get to see work by famous European directors before anyone else in the country. The European aesthetic is different from the American, so we may not like them as much as the people in their homelands. But these productions are always fascinating to see and to learn from.

But isn't this the problem? Most Boston theater people don't want to learn anything new. They have an idea of the theater, and that's what they want to see. Anything that goes against the way theater was done when they were twenty-five is just too radical for them. Thus, their hostility to ART.

I can understand this attitude in people who just go to the theater. They know what they like, and they want to see it. But people who are involved in the theater should have broader interests, if only to see what works and what doesn't work -- examples of which ART provides in almost every production.

I hope I don't sound too elitist. I love a good production of "Hairspray" or a good, straightforward production of "You Can't Take It with You." But I also like something a little more challenging once in awhile. "Avenue Q" is great, and "Sweeney Todd" is great. The Lyric production of "The Goat" was wonderful, and so was the ART production of "Uncle Vanya." Robert Lapage used $150 million to produce an amazing spectacle in "KA" in Las Vegas and considerably less to produce an amazing play in "The Far Side of the Moon" at ART. There should be room for it all.

Larry, you may be an old fogey, but there are plenty of middle-aged fogeys and even young fogeys in the Boston theater scene.
Keep on fogeying,
Steve Fulchino
P.S., Theater people are always worrying about how to get young people to see stage plays. Go to a mid-week ART production. The whole back of the theater is filled with college students.

Date: Fri, 07 Apr 2006 08:38:50 -0400
From: excelsys@aol.com
Subject: Re: From Sandi

........... BTW, that was a GREAT response to A.R.T. person. I guess directors aren't the only ones over there who are egomaniacal. And I am also one of those who doesn't bother with them any more. Also got tired of seeing Shakespeare butchered.

Date: Fri, 07 Apr 2006 08:39:27 -0400
PS- although I did like their MERCHANT OF VENICE about 6-7 years ago - I think that's the last time I saw anything worth anything there.

Date: Sun, 26 Mar 2006 09:44:25 -0500 (EST)
From: TANNICONE@aol.com
Subject: David Dacosta - Assassins in mere opinions

Unfortunately I was unable to review Assassins because I was directing Blithe Spirit in East Greenwich, RI the first two weekends of their run. I also couldn't attend their last two shows due to prior commitments made months in advance to review Aida at Company and Midsummer Night's Dream at Bay Colony.
Tony Annicone

Date: Wed, 22 Mar 2006 16:30:50 +0000
From: "David DaCosta" ddactor@hotmail.com
Subject: NCP-Assassins

I am in a very difficult position in writing this email,having been a cast member of the show I am going to refer to however, on the behalf of all the hard working individuals involved in the production of Assassins at Newton Country Players I have to say that I was very disappointed to see that none of the Independent Reviewers of New England were able to make it out to see one of the three weekends that the show ran. I also find it curious that other shows running received multiple reviews.
Now I am no conspiracy theorist, and I have zero beef with you. We have had in the past some dialog that made the web site, and I had the honor of meeting you for the first and only time after a production of A Chorus Line down in Foxboro about two years ago. I enjoy your site and all that it has to offer, and selfishly, as a performer, director, designer, I find myself eagerly anticipating any comment on any show that I may be involved in, to find its way to your page. Unfortunetly for myself, and more importantly as whole, for the cast and crew of Assassins, we didnt get to see any objective review of our passionate work.
David DaCosta

The Theatre Rescue Fund

This will be the hardest and the most depressing piece I have ever written for The Theater Mirror.

On the 14 of December last, shortly before Christmas, I sent the same e-mail letter to 32 theater companies that, over the last year, had been reviewed in the pages of The Theater Mirror. (I will attach the letter to the end of this explanation.) In it I asked for money, because I'd been told that a company --- one with a long and glowing track-record --- was in grave danger of closing unless they could raise the price of next year's season.
I didn't expect to raise the $6,000 that was needed.
I did, though, expect that I could raise some of it because --- well, because I thought every one of those 32 companies would empathize with someone struggling with a problem every one of us has stared in the face, often every year.
I suggested that companies consider sending the take from their Worst House of the year --- and I didn't expect that anyone would do that, of course. (If the A.R.T. or The Huntington had done that, we'd have financed THREE seasons for that struggling company!)
People Did respond, a few very generously, and for a week or so I had high hopes --- not so much of Saving one of my favorite theatres from disaster, as of proving to a crass and unfeeling world that Theater People, at least, could take care of their own.
And then letters stopped coming.

I archived all the letters. (Click Here)
In particular, I was glad to see one or two expressing regret that they themselves were staring ruin in the face and couldn't possibly put their meagre money where their mouths were. I really felt for those, and felt warm, sincere gratitude for the individuals who could only kick in a few bucks.
But I got a total of only ten responses of any kind.

What hurt me most was the stunning, stony Silence from everyone else.

It hurt a lot.

I don't believe in miracles, but I did believe that the people who do theater here were friends --- at the very least friends Of Mine --- who could understand why the prospect of losing Any theater company would be particularly painful to me.
I naively thought The Theater Mirror stood for something.

I will this month add a little money of my own and get a check to the stricken company's Artistic Director.

And I'm sorry to have wasted everyone's precious time.

Love, ===Anon. ( a k a larry stark )

This is the note sent to the theatres reviewed in The Theater Mirror in the past year:


Beware. I am going to ask you for money.

As the Solstice approaches and the sun dips daily ever closer to extinction its failing rays stretch, pale and red and feeble, into my home until on that shortest day of the year they reach the entire length of the apartment, from my only window down the hall and, all too brief and pale, onto the inside of my door. It reminds me every year of that wintry dragon our ancestors watched, with its icicle-teeth, nibbling away the light.
I still believe, as an old friend assures me every year, that "The Sun WILL Come Again" but, more and more, I have come to hate Xmas --- not at all because I am a newly confessed anti-Christian atheist, but because for more years than I'd like to count I end every year without enough wherewithal to participate in the festivities.

No, I am not asking for money for me.

Just last week, after an absence of several months, a neighbor --- not quite a friend, but more than an acquaintance --- showed up again with her traditional request: ten dollars for cigarettes and a bottle of beer. She's a recovered crack-addict, a "tough old bird" --- a youngest daughter needing someone to listen to her enumerate her family problems, and so I do. But this time she pushed herself in on a wheelchair and, without meeting my eyes, told me of hospital and re-hab stays, smiled a moment at the antics of her cat, and matter-of-factly said the doctors had told her mother they can do nothing more for her. So Selina is dying --- and all I had in my pocket was six bucks.

No, I don't want money for her.

A couple days ago, I heard that a Theatre is dying.

And, in amongst my gloomy meditations on "The DEAD of Winter" and the difference a few bucks can make, and the life-and-death difference money makes in the happy-ending to our favorite Solstice myth ("It's A Wonderful Life"), I thought I'd make a try at proving theater people care about their own.
This is what I've heard:

The "Nut" is six thousand dollars, or they will be dark come June.

They still pay the actors, but the staff (small as it is) has taken no salaries;
instead they have taken part-time jobs to keep themselves alive.

But the one thing that gave me hope in this gloomy tale is this:
Some years back a sudden short-fall had to be made up, and was; a couple genuine benefactors helped (helped a lot) --- but more than half their short-fall was paid for in ten- and twenty-dollar donations from Other Theater People!

Can you see, now, why I have invoked the cash-strewn table giving George Bailey's Building & Loan it's needed happy ending?

What I'm going to do is ask every company that has been reviewed in The Mirror this year to make a gift --- Not a Benefit, but a simple Gift --- of an amount equal to the box-office take from One Performance.

And no, I won't tell you what theatre is in trouble.
They have their pride, and they and I still believe in miracles.
Besides, do you know of a theater company, anywhere, that couldn't be in just such straits next year, or even next month? So send not to know for whom this bell tolls. There, but for the grace of Thespis, go we all.
And I have no faith whatever in flinchfisted governments or corporations or grants-men to save a theatre too small for them even to notice.
We who Make theater and who Love theater are the only ones to understand what is at stake, and how close every one of us come to needing just such help.

I will take none of the money you donate.
If we can raise six thousand, one more theatre will stay lit.
If not, well perhaps we ought to make what money we can raise the beginning of A Theatre Rescue Fund that will Be There when next one of us is, suddenly, in real need.
We owe that to one another.

Out in Iowa, my friend holds every year a Solstice Celebration.
As sunset approaches, the youngest person present is sent to a west window to watch, then to run in with the news:

Then all lights are extinguished except for one candle and, each in turn, everyone comes forward to light a taper saying
THE SUN......
and, lighting another of the candles circled on the table
When all have done so the eldest present uses a taper to light the biggest of the candles with the words
And then light is carried to dozens of other candles throughout the house, and out come the presents and the music and the foods and sweetmeats and jollities until, when the last guests depart, the eldest of the household keeps watch on that biggest candle until sunrise.

I still believe THE SUN WILL COME AGAIN.

A bright and cheerful Solstice Morning to you all.



Date: Mon, 13 Feb 2006 16:10:53 -0500
From: "Jeff Poulos" jpoulos@stagesource.org
Subject: Elliot Norton Awards survey

The Boston Theater Critics Association, which presents the Elliot Norton Awards, is seeking input from the Greater Boston theater community on how the annual presentation ceremony and selection process can be improved.

The BTCA welcomes your response to a brief survey - the link to the survey is below. Click on the link, or paste the link into a browser.

The hope is to make the awards an even more valuable part of the area’s theatrical life and to make the ceremony a more enjoyable and popular event. Responses are anonymous, so please give the Boston Theater Critics Association your honest opinion. Please respond by February 23, 2006. Thank you.

Click on this link to access the Elliot Norton Awards survey, or copy and paste into a browser.
Jeffrey Poulos
Executive Director
88 Tremont Street, Suite 714
Boston, MA 02108
ph: 617.720.6066
fax: 617.720.4275
StageSource is a member of the Arts Services Coalition and Massachusetts Advocates for Arts Sciences and Humanities.

From: Beverly Creasey
No E-Mail Address

The face of cabaret has changed. It used to be shrouded in mystery ---in out-of-the-way, smoke filled cafes where performers crooned until the wee hours and patrons drank their scotch and sodas in the dark. Now that the smoke has disappeared, more often than not, the booze has, too. Venues like the “cabaret connection” at the Cambridge Center for Adult Education (in Harvard Square) offer a “theatrical” evening of cabaret. The shows may have a theme; some have a script, and often there’s little difference between “cabaret” and a “theater” evening like Elaine Strich’s one-woman, Tony winning performance in which she held forth (and told a few tales out of school) and sang her signature songs.

Date: Fri, 16 Dec 2005 13:55:04 -0500
From: "Arthur Hennessey" norfolk1a@hotmail.com
Subject: RE: A Boston Playwrights' Collective

Hi Larry,
I actually was not aware that the ICA was on the chopping block. It is a strangely underused space, but with a good history. (Didn't Bogosian perform some of his first solo shows in that space?)
By the way, I would like to point you to an article about critics that I would love to hear your thoughts on.
Hope all is well.


Rupert Christiansen on why critics should resist the seductive charm of actors

Watching that marvellously disenchanted satire of the theatrical world, All about Eve, on DVD, I was delighted to re-encounter the potent figure of the critic Addison DeWitt (presumably modelled on the scourge of Broadway in the 1930s, George Jean Nathan), immaculately played by George Sanders.

Theatre critics tend to divide into dandies and terriers. John Barber, who died this month and served this newspaper nobly from 1968 to 1986, was a dandy, for whom a play or an actor was something to be savoured like a fine wine. DeWitt appears to be a terrier, driven by a puritanical moral vision.

What fascinates me most about him is the confidence with which he inhabits off-stage areas of the business. He brings his protégés to parties in stars' apartments, he visits dressing rooms, he tells actors and playwrights what's what face-to-face.

DeWitt can manage this, because he knows himself to be ruthless and incorruptible: he is the movie's truth-teller, if not its hero. The way he operates reflects Peter Brook's opinion, expressed in The Empty Space: "The more the critic becomes an insider the better. I see nothing but good in a critic plunging into our lives, meeting actors, talking, discussing, watching, intervening."

But Brook expressed this view some 40 years ago, and I doubt that he still holds to it. I certainly don't think an Addison DeWitt could exist today, when the etiquette of contact between the critic and the criticised has become a minefield, complicated by the sugar-coated intervention of the PR people. (Seven years after All about Eve, in 1957, the latter phenomenon was dissected in Sweet Smell of Success; the two films should be watched in tandem.)

I'm not convinced that there should be an absolute cordon sanitaire between the critic and those he or she criticises - surely there has to be some channel of communication, if one is to develop any sort of professional intelligence and keep in touch with the buzz - but social encounters with those you have to criticise are invariably tricky.

Actors can be so charming, such fun. Yet, if you allow yourself to be even temporarily seduced (an essential part of the craft of performance, after all), there comes a point at which, in the cold light of morning, fingers poised above the keys, you can no longer trust your objectivity.

There is no unity of opinion as to precisely where the line should be drawn. Some people, such as my revered colleague Charles Spencer, deeply dislike interviewing those they then have to review, but I don't find this necessarily compromising.

Others allow themselves to build special relationships with those they particularly admire, or maintain friendships with those they knew in earlier days. Closer intimacies are not unheard of.

When I started off as a critic 15 years ago, I imagined I would follow the Addison DeWitt line of attack. I fantasised about rubbing noses with the stars on a banquette at the Savoy Grill, and gorgeous young creatures being enchanted by my words of wisdom. If only: one bitter pill critics have to swallow is that those we criticise tend to hate and despise us.

So I dropped my DeWitt aspirations, and now try to keep a low profile. The truth is, I'd rather be thought standoffish than chummy. I often go to shows alone, and, until my review is written, I don't like entering into detailed discussion of a performance's merits, least of all with my fellow critics.

One's opinions are fragile things, and between Acts 1 and 2, a delicate balance can be tipped. Someone dashing over during the interval and asserting that it's wonderful or ghastly can be seriously discombobulating.

All of which makes me think that Peter Brook was wrong to invite us in. Few have the inner steel to steer the course as adeptly as DeWitt, and we are better keeping a certain distance. What Brook should have said is that critics need to cultivate a quality that DeWitt lacks - humility.

I don't mean humility about our opinions, which should be firmly held and frankly expressed. I don't even mean humility about our inability to do the thing ourselves. But we should feel humility about our importance in the great scheme of things: the spiritual danger for critics is the delusion that we are much more important than we actually are.

Because, although theatre cannot exist without performers and theatres and audiences and playwrights, it can get on perfectly well without us lot and the view from the aisle seat in Row H.

The Nobel lecture

Art, truth and politics

[ In his video-taped Nobel acceptance speech,
Harold Pinter excoriated a 'brutal, scornful and ruthless' United States.
This is the full text of his address. ]

Thursday December 8, 2005  

In 1958 I wrote the following:

'There are no hard distinctions between what is real and what is unreal, nor between what is true and what is false. A thing is not necessarily either true or false; it can be both true and false.'

I believe that these assertions still make sense and do still apply to the exploration of reality through art. So as a writer I stand by them but as a citizen I cannot. As a citizen I must ask: What is true? What is false?

Truth in drama is forever elusive. You never quite find it but the search for it is compulsive. The search is clearly what drives the endeavour. The search is your task. More often than not you stumble upon the truth in the dark, colliding with it or just glimpsing an image or a shape which seems to correspond to the truth, often without realising that you have done so. But the real truth is that there never is any such thing as one truth to be found in dramatic art. There are many. These truths challenge each other, recoil from each other, reflect each other, ignore each other, tease each other, are blind to each other.

Sometimes you feel you have the truth of a moment in your hand, then it slips through your fingers and is lost.

I have often been asked how my plays come about. I cannot say. Nor can I ever sum up my plays, except to say that this is what happened. That is what they said. That is what they did.

Most of the plays are engendered by a line, a word or an image. The given word is often shortly followed by the image. I shall give two examples of two lines which came right out of the blue into my head, followed by an image, followed by me.

The plays are The Homecoming and Old Times. The first line of The Homecoming is 'What have you done with the scissors?' The first line of Old Times is 'Dark.'

In each case I had no further information.

In the first case someone was obviously looking for a pair of scissors and was demanding their whereabouts of someone else he suspected had probably stolen them. But I somehow knew that the person addressed didn't give a damn about the scissors or about the questioner either, for that matter. 'Dark' I took to be a description of someone's hair, the hair of a woman, and was the answer to a question. In each case I found myself compelled to pursue the matter. This happened visually, a very slow fade, through shadow into light. I always start a play by calling the characters A, B and C.

In the play that became The Homecoming I saw a man enter a stark room and ask his question of a younger man sitting on an ugly sofa reading a racing paper. I somehow suspected that A was a father and that B was his son, but I had no proof. This was however confirmed a short time later when B (later to become Lenny) says to A (later to become Max), 'Dad, do you mind if I change the subject? I want to ask you something. The dinner we had before, what was the name of it? What do you call it? Why don't you buy a dog? You're a dog cook. Honest. You think you're cooking for a lot of dogs.' So since B calls A 'Dad' it seemed to me reasonable to assume that they were father and son. A was also clearly the cook and his cooking did not seem to be held in high regard. Did this mean that there was no mother? I didn't know. But, as I told myself at the time, our beginnings never know our ends.

'Dark.' A large window. Evening sky. A man, A (later to become Deeley), and a woman, B (later to become Kate), sitting with drinks. 'Fat or thin?' the man asks. Who are they talking about? But I then see, standing at the window, a woman, C (later to become Anna), in another condition of light, her back to them, her hair dark.

It's a strange moment, the moment of creating characters who up to that moment have had no existence. What follows is fitful, uncertain, even hallucinatory, although sometimes it can be an unstoppable avalanche. The author's position is an odd one. In a sense he is not welcomed by the characters. The characters resist him, they are not easy to live with, they are impossible to define. You certainly can't dictate to them. To a certain extent you play a never-ending game with them, cat and mouse, blind man's buff, hide and seek. But finally you find that you have people of flesh and blood on your hands, people with will and an individual sensibility of their own, made out of component parts you are unable to change, manipulate or distort.

So language in art remains a highly ambiguous transaction, a quicksand, a trampoline, a frozen pool which might give way under you, the author, at any time.

But as I have said, the search for the truth can never stop. It cannot be adjourned, it cannot be postponed. It has to be faced, right there, on the spot.

Political theatre presents an entirely different set of problems. Sermonising has to be avoided at all cost. Objectivity is essential. The characters must be allowed to breathe their own air. The author cannot confine and constrict them to satisfy his own taste or disposition or prejudice. He must be prepared to approach them from a variety of angles, from a full and uninhibited range of perspectives, take them by surprise, perhaps, occasionally, but nevertheless give them the freedom to go which way they will. This does not always work. And political satire, of course, adheres to none of these precepts, in fact does precisely the opposite, which is its proper function.

In my play The Birthday Party I think I allow a whole range of options to operate in a dense forest of possibility before finally focussing on an act of subjugation.

Mountain Language pretends to no such range of operation. It remains brutal, short and ugly. But the soldiers in the play do get some fun out of it. One sometimes forgets that torturers become easily bored. They need a bit of a laugh to keep their spirits up. This has been confirmed of course by the events at Abu Ghraib in Baghdad. Mountain Language lasts only 20 minutes, but it could go on for hour after hour, on and on and on, the same pattern repeated over and over again, on and on, hour after hour.

Ashes to Ashes, on the other hand, seems to me to be taking place under water. A drowning woman, her hand reaching up through the waves, dropping down out of sight, reaching for others, but finding nobody there, either above or under the water, finding only shadows, reflections, floating; the woman a lost figure in a drowning landscape, a woman unable to escape the doom that seemed to belong only to others.

But as they died, she must die too.

Political language, as used by politicians, does not venture into any of this territory since the majority of politicians, on the evidence available to us, are interested not in truth but in power and in the maintenance of that power. To maintain that power it is essential that people remain in ignorance, that they live in ignorance of the truth, even the truth of their own lives. What surrounds us therefore is a vast tapestry of lies, upon which we feed.

As every single person here knows, the justification for the invasion of Iraq was that Saddam Hussein possessed a highly dangerous body of weapons of mass destruction, some of which could be fired in 45 minutes, bringing about appalling devastation. We were assured that was true. It was not true. We were told that Iraq had a relationship with Al Quaeda and shared responsibility for the atrocity in New York of September 11th 2001. We were assured that this was true. It was not true. We were told that Iraq threatened the security of the world. We were assured it was true. It was not true.

The truth is something entirely different. The truth is to do with how the United States understands its role in the world and how it chooses to embody it.

But before I come back to the present I would like to look at the recent past, by which I mean United States foreign policy since the end of the Second World War. I believe it is obligatory upon us to subject this period to at least some kind of even limited scrutiny, which is all that time will allow here.

Everyone knows what happened in the Soviet Union and throughout Eastern Europe during the post-war period: the systematic brutality, the widespread atrocities, the ruthless suppression of independent thought. All this has been fully documented and verified.

But my contention here is that the US crimes in the same period have only been superficially recorded, let alone documented, let alone acknowledged, let alone recognised as crimes at all. I believe this must be addressed and that the truth has considerable bearing on where the world stands now. Although constrained, to a certain extent, by the existence of the Soviet Union, the United States' actions throughout the world made it clear that it had concluded it had carte blanche to do what it liked.

Direct invasion of a sovereign state has never in fact been America's favoured method. In the main, it has preferred what it has described as 'low intensity conflict'. Low intensity conflict means that thousands of people die but slower than if you dropped a bomb on them in one fell swoop. It means that you infect the heart of the country, that you establish a malignant growth and watch the gangrene bloom. When the populace has been subdued - or beaten to death - the same thing - and your own friends, the military and the great corporations, sit comfortably in power, you go before the camera and say that democracy has prevailed. This was a commonplace in US foreign policy in the years to which I refer.

The tragedy of Nicaragua was a highly significant case. I choose to offer it here as a potent example of America's view of its role in the world, both then and now.

I was present at a meeting at the US embassy in London in the late 1980s.

The United States Congress was about to decide whether to give more money to the Contras in their campaign against the state of Nicaragua. I was a member of a delegation speaking on behalf of Nicaragua but the most important member of this delegation was a Father John Metcalf. The leader of the US body was Raymond Seitz (then number two to the ambassador, later ambassador himself). Father Metcalf said: 'Sir, I am in charge of a parish in the north of Nicaragua. My parishioners built a school, a health centre, a cultural centre. We have lived in peace. A few months ago a Contra force attacked the parish. They destroyed everything: the school, the health centre, the cultural centre. They raped nurses and teachers, slaughtered doctors, in the most brutal manner. They behaved like savages. Please demand that the US government withdraw its support from this shocking terrorist activity.'

Raymond Seitz had a very good reputation as a rational, responsible and highly sophisticated man. He was greatly respected in diplomatic circles. He listened, paused and then spoke with some gravity.

'Father,' he said, 'let me tell you something. In war, innocent people always suffer.' There was a frozen silence. We stared at him. He did not flinch.

Innocent people, indeed, always suffer.

Finally somebody said: 'But in this case "innocent people" were the victims of a gruesome atrocity subsidised by your government, one among many. If Congress allows the Contras more money further atrocities of this kind will take place. Is this not the case? Is your government not therefore guilty of supporting acts of murder and destruction upon the citizens of a sovereign state?'

Seitz was imperturbable. 'I don't agree that the facts as presented support your assertions,' he said. As we were leaving the Embassy a US aide told me that he enjoyed my plays. I did not reply.

I should remind you that at the time President Reagan made the following statement: 'The Contras are the moral equivalent of our Founding Fathers.'

The United States supported the brutal Somoza dictatorship in Nicaragua for over 40 years. The Nicaraguan people, led by the Sandinistas, overthrew this regime in 1979, a breathtaking popular revolution.

The Sandinistas weren't perfect. They possessed their fair share of arrogance and their political philosophy contained a number of contradictory elements. But they were intelligent, rational and civilised. They set out to establish a stable, decent, pluralistic society. The death penalty was abolished. Hundreds of thousands of poverty-stricken peasants were brought back from the dead. Over 100,000 families were given title to land. Two thousand schools were built. A quite remarkable literacy campaign reduced illiteracy in the country to less than one seventh. Free education was established and a free health service. Infant mortality was reduced by a third. Polio was eradicated.

The United States denounced these achievements as Marxist/Leninist subversion. In the view of the US government, a dangerous example was being set. If Nicaragua was allowed to establish basic norms of social and economic justice, if it was allowed to raise the standards of health care and education and achieve social unity and national self respect, neighbouring countries would ask the same questions and do the same things. There was of course at the time fierce resistance to the status quo in El Salvador. I spoke earlier about 'a tapestry of lies' which surrounds us. President Reagan commonly described Nicaragua as a 'totalitarian dungeon'. This was taken generally by the media, and certainly by the British government, as accurate and fair comment. But there was in fact no record of death squads under the Sandinista government. There was no record of torture. There was no record of systematic or official military brutality. No priests were ever murdered in Nicaragua. There were in fact three priests in the government, two Jesuits and a Maryknoll missionary. The totalitarian dungeons were actually next door, in El Salvador and Guatemala. The United States had brought down the democratically elected government of Guatemala in 1954 and it is estimated that over 200,000 people had been victims of successive military dictatorships.

Six of the most distinguished Jesuits in the world were viciously murdered at the Central American University in San Salvador in 1989 by a battalion of the Alcatl regiment trained at Fort Benning, Georgia, USA. That extremely brave man Archbishop Romero was assassinated while saying mass. It is estimated that 75,000 people died. Why were they killed? They were killed because they believed a better life was possible and should be achieved. That belief immediately qualified them as communists. They died because they dared to question the status quo, the endless plateau of poverty, disease, degradation and oppression, which had been their birthright.

The United States finally brought down the Sandinista government. It took some years and considerable resistance but relentless economic persecution and 30,000 dead finally undermined the spirit of the Nicaraguan people. They were exhausted and poverty stricken once again. The casinos moved back into the country. Free health and free education were over. Big business returned with a vengeance. 'Democracy' had prevailed.

But this 'policy' was by no means restricted to Central America. It was conducted throughout the world. It was never-ending. And it is as if it never happened.

The United States supported and in many cases engendered every right wing military dictatorship in the world after the end of the Second World War. I refer to Indonesia, Greece, Uruguay, Brazil, Paraguay, Haiti, Turkey, the Philippines, Guatemala, El Salvador, and, of course, Chile. The horror the United States inflicted upon Chile in 1973 can never be purged and can never be forgiven.

Hundreds of thousands of deaths took place throughout these countries. Did they take place? And are they in all cases attributable to US foreign policy? The answer is yes they did take place and they are attributable to American foreign policy. But you wouldn't know it.

It never happened. Nothing ever happened. Even while it was happening it wasn't happening. It didn't matter. It was of no interest. The crimes of the United States have been systematic, constant, vicious, remorseless, but very few people have actually talked about them. You have to hand it to America. It has exercised a quite clinical manipulation of power worldwide while masquerading as a force for universal good. It's a brilliant, even witty, highly successful act of hypnosis.

I put to you that the United States is without doubt the greatest show on the road. Brutal, indifferent, scornful and ruthless it may be but it is also very clever. As a salesman it is out on its own and its most saleable commodity is self love. It's a winner. Listen to all American presidents on television say the words, 'the American people', as in the sentence, 'I say to the American people it is time to pray and to defend the rights of the American people and I ask the American people to trust their president in the action he is about to take on behalf of the American people.'

It's a scintillating stratagem. Language is actually employed to keep thought at bay. The words 'the American people' provide a truly voluptuous cushion of reassurance. You don't need to think. Just lie back on the cushion. The cushion may be suffocating your intelligence and your critical faculties but it's very comfortable. This does not apply of course to the 40 million people living below the poverty line and the 2 million men and women imprisoned in the vast gulag of prisons, which extends across the US. The United States no longer bothers about low intensity conflict. It no longer sees any point in being reticent or even devious. It puts its cards on the table without fear or favour. It quite simply doesn't give a damn about the United Nations, international law or critical dissent, which it regards as impotent and irrelevant. It also has its own bleating little lamb tagging behind it on a lead, the pathetic and supine Great Britain

. What has happened to our moral sensibility? Did we ever have any? What do these words mean? Do they refer to a term very rarely employed these days - conscience? A conscience to do not only with our own acts but to do with our shared responsibility in the acts of others? Is all this dead? Look at Guantanamo Bay. Hundreds of people detained without charge for over three years, with no legal representation or due process, technically detained forever. This totally illegitimate structure is maintained in defiance of the Geneva Convention. It is not only tolerated but hardly thought about by what's called the 'international community'. This criminal outrage is being committed by a country, which declares itself to be 'the leader of the free world'. Do we think about the inhabitants of Guantanamo Bay? What does the media say about them? They pop up occasionally - a small item on page six. They have been consigned to a no man's land from which indeed they may never return. At present many are on hunger strike, being force-fed, including British residents. No niceties in these force-feeding procedures. No sedative or anaesthetic. Just a tube stuck up your nose and into your throat. You vomit blood. This is torture. What has the British Foreign Secretary said about this? Nothing. What has the British Prime Minister said about this? Nothing. Why not? Because the United States has said: to criticise our conduct in Guantanamo Bay constitutes an unfriendly act. You're either with us or against us. So Blair shuts up.

The invasion of Iraq was a bandit act, an act of blatant state terrorism, demonstrating absolute contempt for the concept of international law. The invasion was an arbitrary military action inspired by a series of lies upon lies and gross manipulation of the media and therefore of the public; an act intended to consolidate American military and economic control of the Middle East masquerading - as a last resort - all other justifications having failed to justify themselves - as liberation. A formidable assertion of military force responsible for the death and mutilation of thousands and thousands of innocent people.

We have brought torture, cluster bombs, depleted uranium, innumerable acts of random murder, misery, degradation and death to the Iraqi people and call it 'bringing freedom and democracy to the Middle East'.

How many people do you have to kill before you qualify to be described as a mass murderer and a war criminal? One hundred thousand? More than enough, I would have thought. Therefore it is just that Bush and Blair be arraigned before the International Criminal Court of Justice. But Bush has been clever. He has not ratified the International Criminal Court of Justice. Therefore if any American soldier or for that matter politician finds himself in the dock Bush has warned that he will send in the marines. But Tony Blair has ratified the Court and is therefore available for prosecution. We can let the Court have his address if they're interested. It is Number 10, Downing Street, London.

Death in this context is irrelevant. Both Bush and Blair place death well away on the back burner. At least 100,000 Iraqis were killed by American bombs and missiles before the Iraq insurgency began. These people are of no moment. Their deaths don't exist. They are blank. They are not even recorded as being dead. 'We don't do body counts,' said the American general Tommy Franks.

Early in the invasion there was a photograph published on the front page of British newspapers of Tony Blair kissing the cheek of a little Iraqi boy. 'A grateful child,' said the caption. A few days later there was a story and photograph, on an inside page, of another four-year-old boy with no arms. His family had been blown up by a missile. He was the only survivor. 'When do I get my arms back?' he asked. The story was dropped. Well, Tony Blair wasn't holding him in his arms, nor the body of any other mutilated child, nor the body of any bloody corpse. Blood is dirty. It dirties your shirt and tie when you're making a sincere speech on television.

The 2,000 American dead are an embarrassment. They are transported to their graves in the dark. Funerals are unobtrusive, out of harm's way. The mutilated rot in their beds, some for the rest of their lives. So the dead and the mutilated both rot, in different kinds of graves.

Here is an extract from a poem by Pablo Neruda, 'I'm Explaining a Few Things':

And one morning all that was burning,
one morning the bonfires
leapt out of the earth
devouring human beings
and from then on fire,
gunpowder from then on,
and from then on blood.
Bandits with planes and Moors,
bandits with finger-rings and duchesses,
bandits with black friars spattering blessings
came through the sky to kill children
and the blood of children ran through the streets
without fuss, like children's blood.
Jackals that the jackals would despise
stones that the dry thistle would bite on and spit out,
vipers that the vipers would abominate.
Face to face with you I have seen the blood
of Spain tower like a tide
to drown you in one wave
of pride and knives.
see my dead house,
look at broken Spain:
from every house burning metal flows
instead of flowers
from every socket of Spain
Spain emerges
and from every dead child a rifle with eyes
and from every crime bullets are born
which will one day find
the bull's eye of your hearts.
And you will ask: why doesn't his poetry
speak of dreams and leaves
and the great volcanoes of his native land.
Come and see the blood in the streets.
Come and see
the blood in the streets.
Come and see the blood
in the streets! *

Let me make it quite clear that in quoting from Neruda's poem I am in no way comparing Republican Spain to Saddam Hussein's Iraq. I quote Neruda because nowhere in contemporary poetry have I read such a powerful visceral description of the bombing of civilians.

I have said earlier that the United States is now totally frank about putting its cards on the table. That is the case. Its official declared policy is now defined as 'full spectrum dominance'. That is not my term, it is theirs. 'Full spectrum dominance' means control of land, sea, air and space and all attendant resources.

The United States now occupies 702 military installations throughout the world in 132 countries, with the honourable exception of Sweden, of course. We don't quite know how they got there but they are there all right.

The United States possesses 8,000 active and operational nuclear warheads. Two thousand are on hair trigger alert, ready to be launched with 15 minutes warning. It is developing new systems of nuclear force, known as bunker busters. The British, ever cooperative, are intending to replace their own nuclear missile, Trident. Who, I wonder, are they aiming at? Osama bin Laden? You? Me? Joe Dokes? China? Paris? Who knows? What we do know is that this infantile insanity - the possession and threatened use of nuclear weapons - is at the heart of present American political philosophy. We must remind ourselves that the United States is on a permanent military footing and shows no sign of relaxing it.

Many thousands, if not millions, of people in the United States itself are demonstrably sickened, shamed and angered by their government's actions, but as things stand they are not a coherent political force - yet. But the anxiety, uncertainty and fear which we can see growing daily in the United States is unlikely to diminish.

I know that President Bush has many extremely competent speech writers but I would like to volunteer for the job myself. I propose the following short address which he can make on television to the nation. I see him grave, hair carefully combed, serious, winning, sincere, often beguiling, sometimes employing a wry smile, curiously attractive, a man's man.

'God is good. God is great. God is good. My God is good. Bin Laden's God is bad. His is a bad God. Saddam's God was bad, except he didn't have one. He was a barbarian. We are not barbarians. We don't chop people's heads off. We believe in freedom. So does God. I am not a barbarian. I am the democratically elected leader of a freedom-loving democracy. We are a compassionate society. We give compassionate electrocution and compassionate lethal injection. We are a great nation. I am not a dictator. He is. I am not a barbarian. He is. And he is. They all are. I possess moral authority. You see this fist? This is my moral authority. And don't you forget it.'

A writer's life is a highly vulnerable, almost naked activity. We don't have to weep about that. The writer makes his choice and is stuck with it. But it is true to say that you are open to all the winds, some of them icy indeed. You are out on your own, out on a limb. You find no shelter, no protection - unless you lie - in which case of course you have constructed your own protection and, it could be argued, become a politician.

I have referred to death quite a few times this evening. I shall now quote a poem of my own called 'Death'

. Where was the dead body found?
Who found the dead body?
Was the dead body dead when found?
How was the dead body found?
Who was the dead body?
Who was the father or daughter or brother
Or uncle or sister or mother or son
Of the dead and abandoned body?
Was the body dead when abandoned?
Was the body abandoned?
By whom had it been abandoned?
Was the dead body naked or dressed for a journey?
What made you declare the dead body dead?
Did you declare the dead body dead?
How well did you know the dead body?
How did you know the dead body was dead?
Did you wash the dead body
Did you close both its eyes
Did you bury the body
Did you leave it abandoned
Did you kiss the dead body

When we look into a mirror we think the image that confronts us is accurate. But move a millimetre and the image changes. We are actually looking at a never-ending range of reflections. But sometimes a writer has to smash the mirror - for it is on the other side of that mirror that the truth stares at us.

I believe that despite the enormous odds which exist, unflinching, unswerving, fierce intellectual determination, as citizens, to define the real truth of our lives and our societies is a crucial obligation which devolves upon us all. It is in fact mandatory.

If such a determination is not embodied in our political vision we have no hope of restoring what is so nearly lost to us - the dignity of man.

* Extract from "I'm Explaining a Few Things" translated by Nathaniel Tarn, from Pablo Neruda: Selected Poems, published by Jonathan Cape, London 1970. Used by permission of The Random House Group Limited.
© The Nobel Foundation 2005

Larry Stark larry@theatermirror.com
10/25/2005 01:50 AM
To: ombud@globe.com
cc: letter@globe.com, g_buell@globe.com
Subject: Criteria for Theater reviews by The GLOBE ???

Dear sir:
I may have seen you at the BCA during the talk-back after a performance of "The Story" by Zeitgeist Stage Company. I hope that's the case, since I have a question about the GLOBE coverage of theater events on which I need considerable clarification. Okay, a question with two heads:
First, are there specific criteria that producers must satisfy in order to ensure that a review of their production will appear in the GLOBE?
And second, like the first yet different --- are there specific criteria which the Arts Department of the paper use that automatically exclude a theater company from Ever being reviewed by the GLOBE?

I ask because of the importance a review in the GLOBE holds in the minds of theater makers, and of theater-goers. Some companies or theatres are always, automatically, reviewed while others are, routinely, overlooked. I have sat in on several discussions of the rationales that might govern this crap-shoot, so I'm asking.

Just last week someone opined that the GLOBE will not review a show unless the actors are Paid. Is this fact?
Are Community Theatres automatically excluded because of "Amateur" status?
Must the producers buy an ad in the paper before a reviewer is sent?
Is review-ability tied to ticket-pricing --- expensive Broadway shows are Always reviewed, while $15-a-pop plays go begging?
Is there a minimum Size of House involved?
Is geography important? Like no "Suburban" companies are even glanced at?
Does a company have to have a certain "Track-Record" or a minimum number of productions/seasons behind them before they qualify?
Does a company have to employ a press-representative to deserve notice?
"And what about ... Naomi!?!?!?!"

Seriously, I know the GLOBE cannot pretend to be "the newspaper of record" in such an art-rich, theater-rich beat such as Boston. I don't expect you to cover every production in the 93 theatres here in Boston. Space is in short supply --- and movies and rock-records, I've been told, are the only arts that pay their way with sufficient advertising-dollars --- so music, writing, painting/sculpture, and theater get coverage only because of the generosity of mind at the GLOBE that takes them seriously.
But the small size of theater's sliver of that shrinking pie only exaggerates the question: On what grounds does the paper decide who bathes in critical glory/agony and who shivers unnoticed out in the cold?
This a serious inquiry, and I hope I may include your answer in my website The Theater Mirror, where I'm sure the many makers of theater who drop in to read my own reviews, and those of several others, will be eager to have their puzzled speculations settled once and for all.
Break a leg in any case.......
( a k a larry stark )

Date: Tue, 25 Oct 2005 14:14:41 -0400
From: ombud@globe.com
Subject: Re: Criteria for Theater reviews by The GLOBE ???
Sender: chacon@globe.com
To: Larry Stark larry@theatermirror.com
Cc: sheller@globe.com

Mr. Stark,
Greetings and thanks for your note and questions. You ask some good ones that I have not yet had the opportunity to examine, so I'm including the Globe's arts editor, Scott Heller, in this reply with the hope that he might be able to enlighten both of us on these questions.

Scott, when you have a moment, would you mind giving us some wisdom on this? If it's easier for you, I can drop by your office and we can chat and then I'd be happy to send Mr. Stark a written reply.
Many thanks,
Richard Chacon
Ombudsman's Office
Boston Globe

Date: Thu, 03 Nov 2005 16:50:04 -0800 (PST)
From: Robert Bettencourt rob_bett@yahoo.com
Subject: One Word Review

I read your one word review to playwright Steven Belber in the Theatre Mirror I found it to be insulting and disrespectful not only to Mr. Belber but also to the Huntington Theatre and anyone involved in the production of Carol Mulroney. As you well know the process of writing anything can be long and tedious. Sometimes, the creativity can flow out of you like a river, and you cannot believe your good fortune and even think how easy it is. Other times it is a trickle. Sometimes your left staring at your computer screen or typewriter with absolutely no idea of how to move forward.

Carol Mulroney is a new play being done in Boston and I am sure that Mr. Belber will be going back to the drawing board for another rewrite at least before a New York production is realized. I think that his play regardless of what you thought of it deserves a proper review. Tell us what you hated about it and why you hated it. Tell us what you expected in “the story”, tell us why you expected it, tell us what is needed for this piece to become a play. Tell us anything that would help Mr. Belber aid him in rewriting his play. “No”, doesn’t help anybody and is the type of review that causes tensions between people who create theatre and reviewers. It is the type of review that lands creators and reviewers on opposite sides of each other when we are all on the same side.

I understand how you felt because I also read your take in the “That Was The Week That Was”. What you wrote in that section was more of a review then the one word “no” in the review section. I think you should have put your review in the mere opinions section.

I don't mean to be harsh but I think that a production no matter how terific or terible it is deserves a review that is more then just one word.

Date: Wed, 26 Oct 2005 19:35:22 -0400
From: "Nancy Curran Willis" imadirektor@rcn.com
Subject: Update on Threatened Picket of Laramie Project

Hi Larry,
So many of your readers contacted me with support for the production of Laramie Project at Newton South High School, I thought I would update you on what did (or actually did not) occur on the night of the threatened picket by a Kansas Baptist Church led by Fred Phelps and his band of anit-gay crusaders. On the evening of the planned picket, we arrived at the theater to find police surrounding the theater and police, fire and emergency equipment set up outside in case there was trouble! The town had spent what I am sure must have been thousands of dollars setting up a staging area and providing the police and emergency personnel to ensure the safety of the pickets and any counter-protestors as well as the general public arriving to see the play. After announcing they were coming and forcing the town to spend it's money on "protection" - they called and said they wouldn't be there after all. It appears they would not be picketing our production of Laramie Project because they were just too busy focusing on picketing FUNERALS of SERVICEMEN killed in Iraq. Their latest attack is to protest at the soldier's funerals with signs that state "They turned America over to fags; They're coming home in body bags."

We know the original goal of the Phelps organization was to cause so much alarm and concern within the Newton community that they would shut down the play and refuse to let it be performed. Instead, they encountered a community that was ready, willing and able to defend the right of the students to do the play as planned. I am sure they also hoped that the cost of providing safety for all involved would deter the community from allowing the play to be produced. Neither of their tactics worked. Thank God.

Ironically, Phelps' actions had the exact opposite effect from what he had hoped for. The show was an amazing success; selling out every seat for every performance. The entire community rallied to support the Newton community, the Newton South High School and the cast and crew of the production. The Gay Straight Alliance at the high school gave out yellow arm bands, the principal of the school invited students and parents to arrive early and set up a reception to keep everyone out of harms way; Congressman Barney Frank came to lend support; the mayor of Newton, the superintendant of schools and the school principal all attended the production in support of the students and the play.

What an important learning experience this has been for the students involved with the play and for the entire Newton community. It became a great lesson in the right of free speech - our right to perform the play as well as the right of people like Fred Phelps to say the things they say. While the kids were outraged at him being able to do something like that they soon realized that it is just that freedom that allows us to do our thing. We cannot stop one without impacting the other.

We have all learned from this experience and we thank everyone who offered their support.
Nancy Curran Willis

Date: Tue, 25 Oct 2005 05:58:48 -0700 (PDT)
From: JL jplevene2004@yahoo.com
Subject: response

Dear Larry,
I was very sad to see the letter about the protest to the play in Newton and see the website.
I grieve these types of reactions because they serve to blind people to the message of the gospel and create prejudice towards all Christians. It's getting so I want to return to the orginal term for Christianity: The Way. I'm thinking of producing plays to revisit the stories of the old and new testaments in a way that cuts to the heart.

I think of such protests as the Newton one as focusing on the negative and losing the powerful message of the positive which, stated succinctly by author and educator C.S. Lewis, is that:
"The Christian does not think God will love us because we are good, but that God will make us good because He loves us; just as the roof of a sunhouse does not attract the sun because it is bright, but becomes bright because the SON shines on it."

If you print this, I thank you for sharing the not-always-heard-voice of a bible-believing follower of Jesus who doesn't want to indict non-Christians. Protestant, by the way, comes from the Latin "to witness forth" or to give public testimony for something, and does NOT mean "one who stands against." Having been raised Roman Catholic and converted dramatically to what is commonly called Protestant, I think of myself as neither, but instead I am merely a person relying on God to mold me over the course of my life on this earth. I'm giving him a run for his money. (:
Love in Christ,

Date: Sun, 16 Oct 2005 09:53:46 -0400
From: "Nancy Curran Willis" imadirektor@rcn.com
Our production of "The Laramie Project" has gotten a lot of press. So much so that the Fred Phelps web site "GodHatesFags.com" has listed a planned protest of our play with the most vile announcement in their church (and I use that term loosely) paper.
If you remember the play this is the very group that are in the play as the protesters at Matthew Shepard's funeral. We're a little unnerved by this and not sure how the administration, parents and students are going to react.

Life often imitates art, doesn't it?
There is apparently a lengthy "flier" on the Phelps website explaining why a high-school production of "The Laramie Project" should be picketed, but my machine balked at reproducing it, and all I got was a regurgitation of gobbledegook. (Or maybe that WAS the flier after all!)
In any case, this link
lists the following information under "Schedules for upcoming pickets" in a column rather euphemistically headed
"Love Crusades":
October 22, 2005
7:00 pm – 7:30 pm
Newton, MA
Newton South High School, 140 Brandeis Rd., for The Laramie Project
I promised my attendance elsewhere that date, or I'd be there just to see what happens.
Frankly, I can't think of a better way to drive home the message of the play than to have Fred Phelps' minions doing hands-on Dramaturg research right outside the building!
What do you think?

Date: Wed, 28 Sep 2005 06:34:59 -0700 (PDT)
From: JL (Julie Levene) jplevene2004@yahoo.com
Subject: Re: The Ed Siegel Challenge

Do you post at the Mirror the plays you intend to attend each week?
If not, it would be really neat, I think, a good way for people to see what you're checking out and what night they might be able to spot you post-show. Who knows. It would be an unsaid Larry Stark Challenge to Mr. Siegel, every week, online, for all to see
Call it "Do You See What I See?"

I've never thought about it.
But I'll think about it.....
What does everyone else think about it?

Date: Wed, 28 Sep 2005 17:00:50 -0700 (PDT)
From: Robert Bettencourt rob_bett@yahoo.com
Subject: Bravo!!!

I read your challenge to Ed Siegel of the Boston Globe and all I can say is “Bravo, Bravo!” I was left speechless, applauding and if I was in a Loge Seat I would’ve been hanging off the curtains; it was brilliant. And I think it is about time that the so called “Reviewer of Small Theatre in Boston” as Mr. Siegel has called himself on occasion puts his money where his mouth is. I loved your challenge to him. Although I doubt he will respond I do hope that he takes you up on it and writes about the experience.

EXPLANATION: Rob is referring to this:

27 September '05
Dear Mr. Seigel:

I saw you at "Pal Joey" at the Stoneham Theatre and at "Romeo & Juliet" at The New Repertory Theatre and at "Camelot" in the Shubert Theatre.
But I didn't see you at The Theatre Collective's "Our Country's Good" the very next night, nor at the Devanaughn Theatre for "Closer" the next night, nor at the Abbott Memorial for Hovey Players' "The Beauty Queen of Leenane" in the days after.
Why not, I wonder?

I've been told you challenged Bostonians to tell you
" What if theater lovers from outside the area came to town and said,
'Take me to some shows that make Boston theater special.'? "
A number of Theater Mirror readers have taken your challenge seriously; I'll append their comments to this note.
Why did you ask?
Did you feel you really needed Help figuring out "What makes theater in Boston Special?"
Maybe, if you had gone with me to The Theatre Collective, The Devanaughn, and The Hovey Players, you wouldn't have had to ask.
Don't you ever go to see a play not because your paper demands you write a review of it, but ... Just to See The Play?
You do LIKE theater, don't you?
I don't mean do you like REVIEWING plays; don't you like SEEING plays? Don't you take your job seriously?

Tonight I'm going back to The Devanaughn, where Another Country Productions will be doing a series of short plays in the format they call "SLAMboston". Somehow, I doubt you'll be there with me --- though they will repeat the contest tomorrow night, if you're interested. I happen to think things like this are Exactly "What makes theater in Boston Special"
Drop in tomorrow night and find out why.

In fact, let me challenge YOU:

For the next three months, I challenge you, once a week, to see a show in a theatre here in Boston you've Never Visited Before.
Last I looked, there were NINETY of them to choose from.

Maybe, by January, you'll be able to answer your "challenge" question.

And, at the very least, you'll experience a lot of Electrifying theater.

Break a leg.......
( a k a larry stark )


Don Gillis covers theater in Rhode Island in his Little Rhody website. Some years back, I told him that a long-term theater-hand such as himself ought to put into his reviews some of the helpful suggestions for improvement he would make to a cast he were directing. Well, the first time he did it he was stoned in public --- or at least in e-mail --- by local theater people whose major reaction was "In my opinion, negaive criticism has no place in community theater." So, when the "criticizing the critics" argument broke out again here in The Mirror, Don put in his own two cents (The letter is quoted farther down in this MERE OPINIONS cache), and of course I responded, and then he responded again to me. Here's what we said --- me first.
===Larry Stark

"I am from New England, (Rhode Island), and I still do NOT understand Bostonians."

No, you really don't, Don. Y'see, Boston was once a "try-out town" while Providence is what it has always been: a "tour town". Those different histories have left scars and defined how people approach theater in both cities.

Ever seen (or directed!) the musical "George M"? That show beautifies the career of a talented egomaniac whose songs and performances made him rich enough to become a producer and to buy and operate theatres. As "management" Cohan fought the creation of the theater-performers' union known as Equity, because it would interfere with his methods of making profits from the same sort of performing that had made Cohan rich.

Before Actors' Equity codified their contracts, actors got paid Only for Performing. They could rehearse for weeks without pay for a show that flopped, and get paid only for the few performances before the theatre manager pulled the plug. Equity demanded payment for rehearsals and for preview-performances; so producers started doing "previews" in front of paying audiences in the cities around New York --- Washington, Philadelphia, New Haven, and Boston --- where writers could re-write, directors could see how their work went with audiences and tinker with details.

In 1961, Kevin Kelly --- then a second-string critic for the Boston GLOBE --- learned how powerful reviews of these try-outs could be when the publicity-savvy producer David Merrick objected because his new show ("Subways for Sleeping") was ignored by the GLOBE's theater-voice Cyrus Durgin, and Merrick refused to give a mere second-stringer like Kelly reviewer's comps.

At that time, Boston could boast an eager, intelligent, theater-hungry audience that made it an ideal sounding-board for the experiments and improvements that the creative teams hoped would lead to long runs in New York and then long lives on national tours. And Boston was also home of an experienced theater-lover named Elliot Norton (then critic for the tabliod RECORD-AMERICAN which is now called The Boston HERALD) --- whose columns and conversations with creators helped them hone their products into the best possible shape. And the fact that Boston had three major newspapers devoting review-space to theater (Samuel Hirsch worked for The Boston HERALD before it merged) meant that agreement or conflict among those three critics was followed closely by people who participated in the try-out experience by buying tickets.

Of course, the short-sighted theater managers and producers pissed away that eager, intelligent, theater-hungry audience when try-outs got to be more and more expensive. Instead of shipping sets and casts around to try-out towns, they opted for pre-views in New York itself, and opened long-run Boston companies for big Broadway hits like "You're A Good Man, Charlie Brown" "Hair!" and eventually "Chicago!" --- along with brief runs of other "hits" by their National Touring Companies. And when these "products" were in short supply, they let the Broadway houses here stay dark for months at a time. And having quelled the Bostonian thirst for vibrant new theater, they've managed to turn Boston --- on the Broadway level at least --- into just another touring-town.

Now, it sounds as though I'm disparaging Providence and all of Rhode Island as "Merely" a touring city --- and in a sense that's right, because the function of criticism and reviews is indeed different in even a former try-out town. For a long time, the reviews in Boston mattered --- there was indeed something at stake. The news that a show on its way to a Broadway opening "was in trouble on the road" could undo all the attempts of the p/r people to sell it to the New York audiences as a possible silk purse. No matter how enthusiastic the directors and performers and writers and composers might be of their shows, if all three Boston Critics gave it thumbs-down heads would roll or the show might even close out of town. ("Hot September", the first show I reviewed for B.A.D., closed in Boston; "Prettybell", the only one I reviewed for VARIETY, did the same.) And people's jobs and salaries and even backers' investments once hung in the balance waiting to know what Norton, Hirsch, and Kelly might say.

But the National Tour of a long-run Broadway hit calls up none of that nail-biting suspense. A good local p/r person can probably predict before the show gets to town how many seats will be filled and how much profit will be siphoned back to The Apple, give or take a dozen or so seats per performance. Most shows on tour have more pre-sale than street-traffic revenue, and the local theater-loving crowd is a known, predictable quantity --- regardless of any intrinsic quality or lack thereof. A tour is a tour is a tour after all, right?

My only same-night review --- phoned in from the theatre itself --- was for The Providence JOURNAL. It was a tour of "Grease" at whatever the big Broadway barn there is called (not PPAC), and I think its run was so short they were leaving town as my review hit the streets. Here in Boston an opening-night rave review can make people eager to see the show before it leaves --- and it will be here for at least a week or two, often longer. In a tour-town the review often says "You should-a been there! This is what you've already missed, sucker!"

Now, the one important thing I'd like to suggest is that, over time, the attitude toward the Broadway shows coming to town seems to me to have filtered down into the collective attitude. Here in Boston, with "hot" Broadway product being hyped regularly, and with a proliferation of theater courses, theater departments, and theater schools --- plus several very healthy local companies working every year --- not only the critics but the audiences and even the unpaid creative people working here have internalized a feeling that there is a "best" that a play or a production can, And Ought To, aspire to. Directors and actors actually Care how good the show is on something other than cash-drawer criteria. I know lots of young actors who not only want praise, they want to excell, and even to make a mark down south in The Big Apple if they can. In Boston, better is Better. And the EMACT competitions every year respond to that aspiration by giving a rack of "best" awards for community theater work.

The classic example here is Nancy Curran Willis, who started community theater as a techie at Quannapowitt Players, began directing there and at other community theatres, then worked a season as an Assistant Director to Rick Lombardo at the LORT company The New Repertory Theatre, spent two summers as Company Manager at Gloucester Stage where she directed "The Laramie Project" and will direct a show with Boston Theatre Works. Many of the people I know working with smaller companies in and around Boston want to emulate that upward-mobile career path.

From what I've gleaned from you and Tony Annicone, Don, I think the orientation is a little different down in the sunny south where you work. The attitude I see in Tony's reviews --- and some of the responses to your own reviews --- seems to be "Look, we're all here to have a good time! Let's not rock the boat, okay?" Directors and fellow-actors might be entitled to criticize, but all close ranks if anyone outside voices the same things, especially in public or in print. And while I understand that, on any given night everyone involved with a show is indeed doing The Very Best They Can, as a Bostonian I can't go on to say, since that's true everyone in the cast deserves a bouquet of verbal roses for getting most of the lines right and bumping into the furniture so seldom. I have the impression that in Rhode Island Just Showing Up is enough, while in and around Boston superlatives have to be earned.

Pushed to the extreme, I think community theater companies (and people) fall into two categories: those that want to Enjoy the process and the parties, and those that want to make everything they do The Best it can possibly be.
Those "strivers" who get cast in a "let's party" group can be appalled at the indifference to detail around them, while "partyers" will be equally unhappy at the constant criticism they hear if stuck in a "serious" company.
And I'm not glorifying all my friends here in the frosty north and dismissing everyone down south; I have found both kinds of companies here, and tried to empathize with and console everyone I know who turns up working in An Other Kind of company.

But when I've written about (or refused in some cases to write about) shows, I'm aware of a kind of Bostonian bias in my outlook. If, as happens occasionally, I see a show where only one person is obviously trying to Get It Right, it doesn't matter how much I enjoy the opening-night party; I won't find anything positive to say about the show, and usually I write nothing at all.

Other Bostonian reviewers, however, don't share my hesitation. And I gather things are a little different down in Pawtucket, right? "Negative criticism, in my opinion, has no place in Community Theater" I remember someone saying.

Yeah, people in Boston are ... different.

Break a leg, Don!
( a k a larry stark )


Date: Fri, 19 Aug 2005 20:27:17 -0400
From: "Don Gillis" dongillis@cox.net
Subject: Boston Theatre vs Providence

I read and reread your very informative letter and I did make sense of most of it, but it is difficult to "understand" when you have not experienced the performing arts, such as Bostonians have.

I think it is extremely sad that Bostonians have to have something "new" to satisfy their theatrical experiences (such as Carl Rossi') wanting to change the ending of (GHOSTS).... or beguile Showboat's presentation. I fear that he is not aware that the version he WANTED to see is not in existence with R&H theatricals, the royalty house that licenses the show , (the only version available for the stage is the 1948 version) . I sometimes think that Boston never heard of "copyright" and licensed versions of shows that could be presented for the stage.

I am not in a position to dispute much of what you have said - your have lived through the era...however RI theatergoers also have the same expectations about road shows....I can name you many people who will not buy PPAC tickets because they did not like some of the "road" shows they saw. So.... a tour is NOT " a tour is a tour , is a tour after all, right?" .We expect talent for a $75-$90 seat!

We do try to do our 'best' in community theater - its not "Just showing Up" - we expect a superlative show too, but you are correct when you say that "Directors and fellow-actors might be entitled to criticize, but all close ranks if anyone outside voices the same things, especially in public or in print". Its that scar you talked about in your opening paragraph, and while we won't print what we feel, like you as a reviewer, we also have a kind of RHODE ISLAND bias in our outlook and generally write about the positive sides of this otherwise tipsy-tipsy world of ours. Like I said to Mr. Rossi - writing a review is a crap shoot. I do agree that Tony Annicone goes overboard with his accolades, but think about it - he is a director, producer, actor...not a Mr. Ellliot Norton. Nor has he the 'power" that the Boston reviewers had years ago, to open or close a show. And if it is still happening in Boston - that is disgusting and should be terminated.

And we in 'community theater' do try and present the best that we can with what talent is available in RI - however, it will never match Boston. I often wonder what its like outside of Boston and Providence.?

It is interesting that your opening paragraph really says it all "Those different histories have left scars and defined how people approach theater in both cities". Unfortunately, those scars will remain with theatre in RI and MA forever.

But, your right, people in Providence are .......different.

Yours always.

Date: Thu, 18 Aug 2005 14:18:49 -0400 (EDT)
From: Caroline Ellis clbellis@earthlink.net
Subject: critics

Larry, I read you, Bill Marx and Terry Teachout in Mere Opinions, and what hits me is: "Why would anyone want all critics to have the same idea of what criticism is?"

This morning two things happened in reverse order:
This came in e-mail from my great old friend Bill Marx:
Dear Larry,
In her latest collection of book reviews, Joyce Carol Oates admits that a critic who "'likes everything' is a very bland personality hardly to be trusted." Despite that she goes on to ask if "there might be a respectable category of critic who, disliking something, refrains from making public comment on it." If criticism is to maintain its intellectual integrity, the answer must be no.
Click here to read more.

Now I know the "Dear Larry" was generated by a computer, to make it look like "Good Ol' Li'l-Willie" is talking Only To dozens of people who get his columns automatically. But, since I know the sniffed critique of me is "Oh, Larry likes Everything!" I thought I might respond.
Turns out I don't have to. His column is yet another re-run of Bill's defense of Destructive Criticism as the Only Criticism that Matters, and I've been refuting him for years.
So here's an old one from back in 1998!
"Letters. We get letters..." --- Thursday, 23 July, '98

And, just to cap this rerun/redux, G.L.Horton just sent me this beautiful Critican Quote:

"More and more I question the ultimate value of any criticism whose immediate purpose is not to bring its readers into direct contact with beauty (or shorten the amount of time they spend in contact with ugliness). The purpose of my professional life is to make people happier, and I try not to let myself forget that my way of bringing it about can never be anything more than an imperfect means to a blessed end. C.S. Lewis said it better than I can: “If we have to choose, it is always better to read Chaucer again than to read a new criticism of him.” "

Terry Teachout, Aboutlastnight blog

La Plus Change, right? La plus change...... ===Anon.

Date: Wed, 10 Aug 2005 18:42:02 -0400
From: "Don Gillis" dongillis@cox.net
Subject: Mere Opinions

I read with both interest and confusion the article by Christian T. Potts, who apparently was upset over Carl Rossi's 'mere opinion' of the current production of SHOWBOAT.

You know, I am from New England, (Rhode Island), and I still do NOT understand Bostonians. I do not know Carl Rossi, nor do I know Christian Potts, and I did not see Company Theatre's production of SHOWBOAT. What am I confused about? Well, for one thing, why take history making musicals and twist then apart, like a cyclone? It is my opinion that the American Musical is a "gift" and how it is presented should not be torn apart or dissected as Mr. Rossi has done.

I know that everyone has a voice and a right to their "mere opinion" so I say "Give the cast and crew the accolades they deserve for allowing the people of the 21st century a chance to see what it was like in the 18th century - (be it right or wrongly portrayed)".

The music alone in SHOWBOAT will bring tears and compassion to anyone who has any sense and feelings for people.

In conclusion, Mr. Rossi - lighten up - enjoy the theater even if it does not turn out the way YOU think it should, And to Christian, do not let reviews upset you --- its not worth it, believe me. Ask Larry --- I stopped reviewing shows years ago, for the exact reason I am writing this --- its a crap shoot. And that's my 'mere opinion'.
Don Gillis

Date: Wed, 10 Aug 2005 08:32:23 -0500
From: "Christian Potts" CPotts@fitzgerald.com
Subject: Rossi's review of "Show Boat"

Hi Larry--
I am normally a performer who can take the good with the bad when it comes to reviews, but I have to take issue with Carl Rossi's review of "Show Boat" at Company Theatre. I know it seems like I am reacting to his evaluation of my performance, but his problem with the show seems to have less to do with the show he saw than the material it was drawn from. In the nearly 80 years since its inception in 1927, "Show Boat" has undergone changes -- some for the better, some not so.

Yes, the racial realities of Antebellum South have been glossed over in favor of less racially-charged script/score. And yes, some of the "period" aspects are lost in the 1994 Prince version: The Stevedores do seem more akin to Hoffa's Teamsters of the '60s than the put-upon "ex"-slaves of the post-Civil War, grumbling for fair wages & treatment instead of the chance to "go away from the Mississippi" and seek the freedom that ex-slaves in the North were able to find after the end of the Civil War -- so memorably captured by Edna Ferber's original text and Kern/Hammerstein's "Old Man River" lyrics. In that light, however, one could easily take the late great David O. Selznick to task for his honeyed portrayal of slavery the Deep South in "Gone With The Wind," and more than one critic has, including Roger Ebert, whose review nails one of the major flaws of the film, namely the fact that more is made of Scarlett O'Hara's calluses from a day in Tara's fields than the "sweat & strain" of the slaves that built the grand plantation (see Ebert's review at http://rogerebert.suntimes.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/19980621/REVIEWS08/401010323/1023).

However, I think Rossi misses one important aspect of the show in his critique (affirmed to me in a post-performance conversation with a friend and fellow actor) that is the true essence of "Show Boat" -- it is less a story of the last days of the "plantation era" South and more a chronicle of the evolution of the American musical at the turn of 20th century. There is the broad presentational style of classic "melor-drammers" that evolves into the early days of Vaudeville and eventually into the lavish, spectacular shows of the '20s (think the accursed -- from a Red Sox fan perspective, at least -- "No No Nanette"). The characters represent various archetypes of the day, from the broad archetypes of Gaylord and Magnolia (dashing leading man and chaste ingénue, respectively), the "song-n-dance" Vaudevillian Frank & Ellie, and spunky Kim.

Seen through that lens, the show becomes one that is a treat for the casual musical theatre fan and aficionado alike -- a journey back to the origins of American musical theater, where one can see the birth of classics like "Oklahoma!," "42nd Street," "The Fantasticks" and even "Chicago" (sadly, no one knows where aberrations like "Starlight Express" and "Taboo" came from, and I think the majority of us probably wouldn’t want to know).

Unfortunately, I fear this letter will only come off as sour grapes to the majority of your readers -- just an actor crying "foul" at one sole reviewer's judgement (fair or unfairly so)… but, on behalf of my fellow castmates, the crew, orchestra, directors/producers and all involved in the show (whose enormous talent, deep passion and plain old sweat equity are displayed on stage), I felt the need to respond to this review if only to let the rest of your readers know that there is something else in this version of "Show Boat" besides a "white-washing" of Edna Ferber's novel.

Thanks for the forum, and keep up the good work with the Mirror.
Christian T. Potts

Midyear Observations

About a month ago, the Boston Globe ran two articles on the front of the Sunday Arts section about the state of theatre in Boston--mostly downtown. Both large and small operations were mentioned, with perhaps undue attention to the problems of the "theater district" mausoleums. These big barns may in fact have become almost irrelevant to the life of the theatre in Boston--except where the daily papers are concerned, of course, since operations like Broadway in Boston purchase substantial advertising. Smaller professional theatres with even smaller media budgets may get inconsistent attention at best, usually when they're deemed "newsworthy" for some human interest angle rather than for artistic excellence. While this "end of the season" attention attempted to provide belated balanced coverage, the focus kept coming back to big names and/or financial problems. As much attention was paid to real estate as to the quality of the shows onstage. Neither article considered two obvious problems: first, the continuing lackluster media response to burgeoning theatrical activity in Boston. The quality of arts coverage in general has declined here, following a national trend over the last decade. (Some cities, notably Chicago, are exceptions to this trend.) Secondly, our large institutions are in the hands of shortsighted management with a commercial orientation concerned more with their own image--and salaries--rather than with any long term prosperity for theatre in the Hub.

There also seems to be a tendency to anoint certain artists, which simplifies arts reporting by limiting what gets routinely covered. The ART's "strong" aesthetic allows predictable response, even though it's often a self-aggrandizing "wrong" aesthetic. Huntington's middle-of-the-road blandness and name actors are even easier to respond to, especially when everything's so well dressed up. As for name directors, Boston theatre aficionados know that anything done by Speakeasy's Paul Daignenault deserves attention, that Lyric's Spiro Veloudous delivers even when the material doesn't, that Scott Edmiston has had a range of "hits", that Rick Lombardo gets great work out of his casts even with risky material, that Carmel O'Reilly's Celtic focus is more often than not rewarding and always interesting, that Eric Engel combines strong directorial vision with a respect for the script, that Nora Hussey's Wellesley Summer Theatre demands attention for ensemble work and a love of literature, that Lois Roach will get right to the heart of a play, that David Miller's Zeitgeist productions have grown to deserve longer runs, that Wesley Savick has strong directorial vision, that Courtney O'Connor gets strong character performances from her actors, and so on. All these local directors and their compatriots work in more intimate spaces where grand gesture and auteurial concept have to be subdued in favor of letting the actual author and the actors carry the work. And they're not alone. Even at the community and suburban level, the focus on dramatic integrity has increased, so that quality shows continue to appear at venues in the area, in such historic community theatres as the Footlight Club in J.P. or the Vokes in Wayland--- not to mention Chelsea's TheatreZone in an elegant refitted lodge hall.

We're all proud of Melinda Lopez, Ronan Noone, and John Kuntz, but local playwrights, some of whom have also been in the limelight, have been showing their work around Boston for more than a quarter of a century. Kate Snodgrass, Joyce Van Dyke, Janet Kenney, and Linda Harrington had well-developed works on recently, and might move up to Theresa Rebeck's national current status. Pointed works by Jack Neary or Vladimir Zelevinsky, not to mention John Lipsky, are usually worth a look. The wholesale approach of the Boston Theatre Marathon-- and other less fatiguing festivals of new work-- not only showcases gems on occasion, but generally displays the range of acting talent both professional and avocational available around town. And plays featuring work by local actors such as Richard McElvain, Nancy E. Carroll, Karen McDonald, Paula Plum, Bob Pemberton, Anne Gottlieb, Neil Casey, Judy McIntyre, Vince Siders or Jacqui Parker, to name just ten of at least thirty worth watching, should be given a look, whether facing 99 seats at the Boston Playwrights Theatre or thousands on the Common.

Theatrical tourism will never be a prime attraction in Boston: there's too much competition from history, sports, and other large entertainment venues. Marketing, beginning with various agencies both public and private, needs to focus on getting local audiences to realize just how good the work being done right here is, not over-praise every commercial import or complain that there aren't enough featured actors with recognizable names blowing into town. It is nice to see Brian Denehey on his travels; some others might just as well stay in New York. It would be even nicer if more work by other Massachusetts or New England companies, such as W.H.A.T., Trinity, Hartford, or even Lowell and Gloucester, were scheduled to play Boston. Similarly, in-town theatre organizations should consider transporting their shows to neighboring venues. Maybe then the new theatres at the Calderwood Pavilion wouldn't be so empty this summer, while the ART is bringing back alumna Pamela Gien and providing family entertainment with "FROGZ". (The latter is actually the best thing they've shown all year.) A one week run of "Hal, Harry, Henry" by Shakespeare East has just been announced for the Roberts Studio at the end of the month: however, in this instance Company One is hosting an import rather than doing one of their own unique efforts. Boston only became a tryout town after WWI when the American Theatre coagulated around the New York commercial stage as movies spread across the land. Its real roots are in local repertory companies in their own theatres. Perhaps Brandeis could dedicate one of its stages to bring regional shows into the area, while providing clear directions how to get to the campus.

It's hard to judge whether media or management is more to blame for darkness of Tremont St. One wishes that Stage Source's efforts at raising promotional cooperation were more incrementally effective, so that smaller venues could take the opportunity to fill the vacuum, and develop new audiences for today's theatre. More companies need to learn one basic principle: Promotion begins no later than auditions, if not before then. Word of mouth, the cheapest and most effective way to get butts in the seats, begins with anticipation. Witness the fact that the Actors' Shakespeare Project has already announced that Alvin Epstein will return to Boston to play Lear, even before they've announced where. As for the big rags, let's see who and what they decide to tell people about come this fall.

Will Stackman

Date: Fri, 24 Jun 2005 17:45:55 -0400
From: Jerry Bisantz biz362@earthlink.net

Boston theater is like all theater. Some is goddamn amazingly great. Some is f...ing awful. But ALL are busting their asses. Most people who run theaters have second "real" jobs, families to raise, bills to pay... yet they work hard to show off local talent (and there is SO much of it!) and get a large enough portion of the theater goers to fill their seats. For Mr. Siegel to applaud Charles Tower for not "caving in" and casting the "same old" local talent is really abysmal, but it does bring up an important question. Is some local talent not getting a good "look" by casting directors? Are the same "tried and true" (and talented, don't get me wrong!) actors/singers the only people these critics are getting a look at? Is that why he praised Mr. Towers for getting 212 area code actors?

I just finished working on a New Works festival and was amazed at a few of the actors who blew my mind when they said they are finding it very hard to "break into the scene". Here were these men and women who had a lot to offer... interesting looks, great focus, etc... and they are hungry just to act in an original ten minute piece. I challenge the theaters out there to take a good look at these talents and not give in to the temptation to go with the "hot actor/actress du jour." There is a star in the making for you to find. Maybe there's a little bit of truth in Mr. Siegel's writing (as much as it pains me to say it).

Actually, I think maybe Ed should get out of town for a while. See what it's like elsewhere. . A change of scene may do him well. Spend some time in my old hometown of Buffalo. Great theater there. Or, how about Cleveland? I hear they are looking for critics in Duluth. Maybe when he comes back to Beantown he'll appreciate the varied talent that this town has: actors, directors, and, yes, believe it or not, playwrights.

...I'll neva woik in dis town again! Ciao!
Jerry Bisantz

Date: Tue, 21 Jun 2005 10:29:22 -0400
From: "Arthur Hennessey" norfolk1a@hotmail.com
Subject: Ed Seigel

Hi Larry,
I have a post about Ed Seigel's rundown of the Boston Theatre Scene from Sunday. I don't know if you saw it.
Here is my post:

Feeding the Bear

Ed Seigel gives the pronouncement on Boston Theatre on Sunday and you'll never guess who is at the top of the list!
Well, you probably will guess, it is the American Repertory Theatre.

"There are two significant measurements for a theater community. One: Does it satisfy the needs of local theatergoers? Each season for the past seven or eight years the answer has been an increasingly definitive 'yes.'
The bar is higher for the second measurement. What if theater lovers from outside the area came to town and said, 'Take me to some shows that make Boston theater special.' That might not show Boston theater in as flattering a light.

"But here's how I would answer the challenge:

"I would take them to anything at the American Repertory Theatre, which has pursued a very strong aesthetic in the three years that Robert Woodruff, Rob Orchard, and Gideon Lester have been in charge."

He praises the larger and more established theatres. The Huntington takes some knocks, but Nicholas Martin escapes as their hero. Although it is very apparent that Mr. Seigel is hungry for more "star" appearances such as Nathan Lane and Andrea Martin on the Huntington stages.

The Lyric has been putting together some great seasons, and this coming one is no exception, so I am glad that they are listed. And the New Rep is truly bursting at the seams and it will be interesting to see what comes of the new space.

However, the smaller companies get incredibly short shrift in the article:

". . . and at the BCA:

"The hope was that as the Sugan and SpeakEasy moved into the newer spaces that the older theaters would bring other companies to the fore. Zeitgeist Stage Company had an excellent production of Joe Penhall's clever British play, 'Blue/Orange', but I didn't see anything else to attract those hypothetical out-of-towners. Tony Kushner's 'Homebody/Kabul' by Boston Theatre Works was a particular disappointment."

(I have a whole dissection of the Homebody critical reception on earlier posts.)

So the smaller companies get brushed away with a wave of the hand. And the established conglomerates are fed table scraps from the critical buffet. So the secret to developing a world class theatre town is doing the best of what is done elsewhere. Oh, and also having lots of stars, and of course, we can't forget doing away with this laborious Boston trend of hiring local talent...(pleasant dreams local actors.)

"One can make too much of developing a local scene. At its best -- Harold Pinter's 'The Homecoming' -- the Merrimack Repertory Theatre, which casts mostly from out of town, reminds you how refreshing it can be to not see the usual suspects."

Where is Ryan Landry in this article? Where is 11:11? Where is Rose Carlson and the great job she is doing running the Piano Factory, taking up the slack for the space lost from the closing of the Leland Center, and producing her Dragonfly Festival?

Something I have developed over the past few years is an understanding of critical distance. I used to be baffled at the mainstream critics' refusal to acknowledge smaller theatre. And in fact, I am still shaking my head when I see the Elliot Norton awards honor plays that have had long successful New York runs as "Fringe." (Another post I want to write about.)

However, after the Critics panel last year and reading so much about criticism over the last two years, I understand the danger of critical advocacy for a theatre scene and for a critic's reputation. It is hard for an Ed Seigel in a piece like this to be suggesting people go to see "anything" done at some of the smaller theatre companies, or fringe theatres around town. It is really hit or miss with most of us. And mind you, I am not making illogical exceptions for myself. But my question is, why feed the larger houses your advocacy, then?

It is apparent to anybody who follows the Boston Theatre Scene at all closely that the ART, while a risk taking company, has many missteps, and what is troubling is that I believe Ed Siegel thinks that there is always something redeeming in the production. A comment I have heard frequently is, "the set is almost worth the price of admission." Things like this trouble me because what starts to happen is a separation begins between companies without resources and those with resources.

The definition of "production value" starts to veer off the rails without an adjustment for ticket price. So, in this model advocacy of the American Repertory Theatre becomes less risky because the audience will believe it has gotten its money's worth some way or another. The more they pay, the less chance of being disappointed because at least they will have seen a Nathan Lane or maybe an incredible set. And they will have comfortable seats.

However, for the price of one ART ticket, they could see several Rough and Tumble, Company One, 11:11, or Devanaugh shows. I think basically it all comes out in a wash when looked at this way.and yes, potential for failure.
- posted by YS @ 7:21 PM

Arthur Hennessey is a playwright, he's the artistic director of the Essayons Theatre Company, and his m"blog" THE MIRROR UP TO NATURE regularly and frequently comments on the theater scene, local and cosmic.

Date: Fri, 27 May 2005 14:52:18 -0400
From: Spiro Veloudos Spiro_Veloudos@lyricstage.com
Subject: Susan McGinley

Having not read Theatre Mirror in several weeks, I was socked to see the notice of the passing of Susan McGinley. So many people in our industry tell me how I intimidate them. Susan was maybe the only person who intimidated me. Even though her sheer size was imposing, there was nowhere near enough room in her body for the size of her heart.

Susan was directing me (and Bobbie Stienbach among others) in a production of Lorca’s, The Prodigious Shoemakers Wife, at the Galaxy Theatre in the Piano Factory. The young man, 13 years old, playing one role, for some reason that currently escapes me, wasn’t able to perform. Instead of canceling the performance, Susan played a 13 year old, thin, black young man. I was enthralled. Not only did she believe that she could play this part, she made the audience believe it as well. I will never forget that experience. It taught me that if you are true to the given circumstances, that you strive for being believable in the fictitious situation and truly play what your intentions are, an older, zafig, Irish woman can be a 13 year old, thin, black young man. These lessons stick with me today. It was remarkable.

Almost as remarkable as Susan. Lets all have a Guiness in memory.

Spiro Veloudos
Producing Artistic Director
The Lyric Stage Company of Boston

Date: Mon, 16 May 2005 13:14:44 -0400
From: Robert_Deveau@harvardpilgrim.org
Subject: Memories of Susan McGinley

Susan McGinley, founder of the Open Door Theatre, died of cancer early this month. The Open Door performed from 1974 through 1995 in what was called the Kettlebowl (or simply "The Bowl"), a rustic, natural ampitheatre located near Jamaica Pond. Susan was the theatre's driving force for most of its existance. She was as rough and unique as her performing space, larger than life in every sense of the word. Below are some reminiscences from people who knew her, worked with her, were influenced by her.

From David Berti, actor:
I met her when I was a freshman at B.U. in 1971 and she was a T.A. for my speech class. I was in awe of her. I will always remember her in the B.U. production of "Brain" in which she appeared naked from the waist up and spray-painted gold all over! An amazing person.
I feel very sad.
-- David

From Cortney Skinner, illustrator:
I was more on the periphery of all the action there at The Bowl, and the Open Door... and the Boston theatre scene... just doing the occasional strange prop, odd costume piece or rigging [actor] John Devlin to hang by the neck from a tree, and not kill him... but Susan, like everyone has said, was immediately memorable. She was a landmark, a force, and unforgettable no matter what level of acquaintanceship one had with her.
The very odd and unique thing about her was that when I first met her, she related to me as if she had known me for ten years... y'know that feeling you get? ...you know how they are... they know how you are...there's an immediate rapport... and then you can both proceed with the business at hand... no bullshitting around. On with the show...
The context in which I will always remember Susan is there at The Bowl... I have no doubt that if I were to return there, she'd eventually show up.
- Cort

From Marine Re, actor:
I wanted to add my thoughts about Susan, as well as my prayers. Susan shared in a joyous time in my life, and i will always be grateful to her for all she did for me.
I met her when i first auditioned for the Open Door theatre, and was thrilled to be directed by her; first, in INSECT COMEDY, and then other shows to follow. She was a talent and a force to be reckoned with, and i learned a lot, not only about the theatre, but about living life to its fullest from her. Who else would ever wrestle [actor] John Savoia in a ring just to support the ODT? She put her heart and soul into everything she did! I then had the enormous pleasure of sharing the stage with her at the Boston Shakespeare Company, and we shared many more laughs off the stage than the audience ever got to see! Susan was
a great teacher, and not just in the classroom. When i first met her, I was shaking in my boots, then i got to know her, and she had me shaking with laughter. Susan was one of a kind, and what i loved so much about her is she always encouraged ME to be one of a kind as well. She made such a strong impact on so many lives, and she will be sorely missed.
-- Marina Re

From Robert Deveau, actor:
She was the kind of person who provokes instant memories, even for someone like me who knew her very little.
I never worked with Susan, but was in Her Presence on a number of occasions, and "Presence" is definitely the word. One of the very first auditions I ever went to was for the Open Door's production of "Marat/Sade". I don't remember if she was directing it, but she was certainly there. I was nervous enough without her intimidating Presence! (I wasn't cast.)
The last time I saw her in action was at the Open Door's 20th Anniversary reunion in 1994. She was directing many ODT alumni in a children's play about the signs of the zodiac. With crazy actors running around the Bowl wearing wacky costumes and Susan barking orders, it was as if no time had gone by at all.
She was a completely original person.
-- Bob Deveau

From Larry Blamire, writer/director:
My name is Larry Blamire and I just wanted to express some thoughts on Susan's passing. It never occurred to me that Susan COULD die. When I first saw her playing the title role in MOTHER COURAGE at the Open Door Theatre, she seemed like a force of Nature; so fitting that the Open Door was outdoors.
That was the first theatre I ever really saw and when I became a part of Open Door, it really seemed that Open Door WAS Susan -- they were interchangeable. She taught me that an actor needs to have "a soul that cries" as she put it. She was the huge, passionate, encouraging, manipulative, loving, laughing, angry, unforgettable, difficult, brilliant, crazy, unique, partying, soothing, mother of us all. She didn't seem to live anything halfway.
The first play I wrote, IN THE NATIONS, was also the first I directed. But I wouldn't have if Susan didn't put the board of directors at ease by assuring them she would "assistant direct"; then largely standing back, letting me explore a vision, offering support when needed, finally disappearing when it seemed under control. That took some "vision" on her part. And faith. And I will always be grateful.
I think I last saw Susan at a reunion of ODT, probably in the early 90s. I can still hear her call me "BLAY maya". She often joked that the skies in my paintings were Blamire Blue ("BLAY maya blue"). I'm on the west coast now, unfortunately; I wish I could be there in East Eddington. But I will think of her often.
--Larry Blamire

From Kathy del La Femina (Kariotis), actor:
I met her when I was just out of my 20's and doing my first show at the Bowl - playing the fortune teller in Skin of Our Teeth, directed by James - whatever the crazy guy's name was. [James Williams] He kept telling me he didn't want me to play it as a woman (which was puzzling to say the least since i --- as a woman --- had auditioned for the part as a woman! Hmmm....!) Anyway, Susan was holding court at the top of the Bowl on the steps and I was lurking around the edges. She knew I was frustrated by James' direction, by the reviews, by my own insecurities. She looked at me, said - "hey- come ere! Listen - just ignore the mother f----- and go out and do what's in your gut!" After that, it didn't matter what anyone said - I just followed Susan's direction! And that was just my first of many personal interactions with Susan - not always easy, often confrontational, but NEVER dull! ;-) I wish it hadn't been so damn long since I'd seen her last - another reason why I am SO glad we've all gotten together again - life is short, guys, and we've all been together too long to let too much time go by any more! I missed the Bowl reunion - I think I was home with some baby - and I think the last time I saw Susan was at [actor] Randall's 'service' at Triple D's. As a warm and fuzzy thought for us all - Jennelle [Kathy's daughter] has moved to JP with 2 other girls into a beautiful old triple decker - and can just about see Triple D's from her sidewalk. [Triple D's was the ODT's restaurant/bar of choice.] I took Jennelle and John and Zach there for dinner (they were skeptical till they tasted the food!! Hahahah! Just as yummy as always! And the place has not changed at all!) I know Susan would have laughed her ass off to think of another generation of 'our kids' in JP. The road to the Bowl is chained off :-( I haven't had the heart to walk in there yet to see what's left of the Bowl or the House [mansion next to the Bowl]. Not a one of us who knew Susan will ever ever forget her!!! She --- probably more than anyone else --- symbolized a very special time in all our lives.
Much love, Kathy [Kariotis]

"The Memory of Water"
Larry Stark of TheaterMirror.com
to speak at May 1 Matinee

This first appeared in the Concord Journal

"I only got to 127 plays last year, and that's about the average. Of course, that doesn't count readings, seeing shows a second time, theater fund-raiser parties, or the StageSource party and the Independent Reviewers of New England bash -- maybe about a dozen of those in a year."

So says Larry Stark, Mr. Boston Theater to those in the know and the founder the homespun Web site www.TheaterMirror.com.

Stark will be speaking with the Concord Players audience and the cast and crew of "The Memory of Water" on May 1, after the 2 p.m. matinee. The play -- a dark, comedy-tragedy about three sisters who return to their childhood home for the funeral of a mother they all remember differently -- lends itself to discussion. But Stark hopes to move from a focus on the production to what playgoers think about theater in general.

Concord Players president Jean Devine regards his appearance as a coup. "Larry Stark is well known to those who make theater in the Greater Boston area," she says. "We are excited about having him exchange insights with the people that no play can exist without, the audience."

Larry Stark and his Theater Mirror were nominated this month for one of NETC New England Theatre Conference's 2005 Regional Awards. The Web site gets about 300 hits per day, mostly from theater people, but Stark always hoped it would serve audiences, too, making it easy for them to find everything that was playing at any given time and infecting them with his boundless enthusiasm. That's why he intends the May 1 discussion to be a genuine give-and-take, a "Talk With," and not a lecture or talk-back.

As regular visitors to www.TheaterMirror.com know, Stark is often critical of critics. His own reviewing style is to describe a show and try to "tell people how to like it." He wants everyone to love theater. He rarely reviews a show he hates. Instead he writes a long letter to the director explaining why he thinks the production didn't work and how it might be improved.

Stark has been developing this style for years, reviewing for the MIT student newspaper "The Tech," edited by Joe Hanlon in the 1960s, and then for a weekly entertainment newspaper, Boston After Dark, or BAD, which Hanlon started after graduation.

Stark recalls, "Joe sold his interest in Boston After Dark to James T. Lewis, the advertising manager, and I wrote for the paper without pay for three years while working in a book store. Then the other BAD theater reviewer, Steven M. Mindich, bought a half-interest and became co-publisher. The paper grew, and I was offered a salary. I quit pushing books at the Cambridge Booksmith and worked as BAD's theater editor until 1972. Then I wrote reviews for a student-distributed supplement to The Cambridge Phoenix, which Mindich purchased in 1980, taking the Phoenix name for BAD."

In the late 1980s, Stark began collecting names, addresses and phone numbers of all the theaters listed in the Boston Globe's Thursday calendar, intending to write a theater guidebook. Advising him on the project was "a computer guru who insisted that to get the word out, I needed a Web site," Stark says. "I realized then that not only could I give people listings of shows, but I could post my reviews and the reviews that other theater lovers sent me. The Theater Mirror was born."

At the May 1 "Talk With," Stark has a lot of questions to ask the Concord Players audience and members of the "The Memory of Water" production: Does reading reviews help you? Do you decide to go a show even if it is panned? Would you prefer a sort of Zagat of criticism, where only fellow playgoers give advice? Would you rather just read a description of the show without opinion?

He emphasizes, however, "I'm also interested in giving the audience and 'The Memory of Water' performers, director, designers and crew a chance to interact on a more personal basis." That interconnection is what live theater is all about.

Date: Sun, 24 Apr 2005 13:27:58 -0700 (PDT) From: Will Stackman Subject: RE:Professional

I think the best answer to Rob Bettencourt's rather niggling comment is to use "non-commercial" and "unsalaried" to describe some of our regional theatre operations. Many of our friends consider the theatre one of their professions, if not their major interest, regardless of what they do for a living. I'd avoid the word except when required by Equity contract. Alexander Stevens has a nice take on the idea of "community theatre" in his article on the New Reps move to Watertown. Get to it through the Herald/Town on Line; any TAB paper.

Date: Fri, 22 Apr 2005 18:32:33 -0700 (PDT)
From: Robert Bettencourt rob_bett@yahoo.com
Subject: My Two Cents.....

“But again, there extrinsic reasons why the play is important: Ms. Willis got involved in theatre in this very Community Theatre and despite finding important paying positions with serious professional companies in her transition from techie to director, she still finds it important to slip back into this NON-professional world now and again.”

“Her cast are all "professional amateurs" with loads of serious experience, and it shows.”

I got the impression that you think Ms. Willis should not be wasting her time directing for a community theatre now that she has had successful involvement with paying positions at serious professional companies. Why? It is this kind of thinking that has crept into reviews posted in the mirror, it is thinking that I feel is a big problem with the so called Boston Theatre Community and angers me to my very core. It is one of the reasons I so rarely log onto your website anymore. If Ms. Willis likes the company, the people that are involved within the company and believes in the work why shouldn't she work with the company regardless of whether it is a community theatre or an Equity theatre? The Quannapowitt Playhouse is a company that has done professional quality productions consistently and at times the quality of their shows are better then the so called serious professional theatres. I am not a part of the Quannapowitt Playhouse but if I was I would have been very insulted by what you wrote.

Obviously getting paid for your art is an element required to be called professional but an artist does work wherever they can, because the work is important and needs to be done regardless of whether they are getting paid or not. I feel that Ms. Willis is a “Professional Artist” and I thank her very much for doing the work where the work is available.

I am sorry but I just felt that I had to vent.
Rob Bettencourt

Date: Mon, 04 Apr 2005 11:04:19 -0400 (EDT)
From: "Felix D. Arroyo, Boston City Councillor" felixd.arroyo@cityofboston.gov
Subject: April newsletter
To: larry@theatermirror.com

Gaiety Theatre Fight Escalates By Jamie Willmuth, Chief of Staff
This past winter, Councillors Chuck Turner and Arroyo filed an official appeal to the City's Zoning Board of Appeals concerning the proposed demolition of the Gaiety Theatre in Chinatown.

On March 29th, the two Councillors were joined by several of their colleagues, dozens of community residents and neighborhood activists at the scheduled 12:30 PM hearing. Contradicted only by the developer's own attorney and City Councillor Jim Kelly, virtually all those attending came to urge the Zoning Board of Appeals to revoke an issued permit allowing developers to demolish the historic theater to make way for a yet another huge luxury housing tower.

Much to our surprise, ZBA Chair Robert Shortsleeve delayed the hearing until 1:00 P.M. before announcing that the issue would not be heard because the ZBA did not have jurisdiction. The City Councillors led everyone down to the City's legal department for an explanation and Chairman Shortsleeve was advised that the hearing had to be held as scheduled.

Councillor Arroyo informed the ZBA that he feels a responsibility to see that the City's laws are followed and to provide oversight over the actions of City agencies. In this case, the City's Inspectional Service Department issued a demolition permit that is not allowed under the Zoning Code.

As a representative of the community, the Councillor asked that when the ZBA makes its decision on the Gaiety's future, they take heed of the community's plans and recommendations, as the Code requires.

For far too long, neighborhood planning efforts have been sacrificed to promote individual development projects in Chinatown and in other parts of our City. Frustration at this reality was clearly evident at this hearing, as nearly all those testifying lamented the lack of consideration for the residents of Chinatown and the dismissive attitude of City and BRA zoning officials.

Unfortunately, the Zoning Board of Appeals ducked. Rather than issue an immediate ruling, it was announced that the ZBA would simply take it under advisement and refer the issue to the City's legal department for a final determination.

As we await a decision in this case, Councillor Arroyo will continue to promote a new City Planning Department, separated from the economic development work of the BRA. We will continue to promote "community based planning" throughout the City in an effort to educate the public and engage citizens in informed decision-making about development in their own neighborhoods.

For more information about the Councillor's broad legislative and policy agenda - including his education, economic, public safety, health and environmental agenda - please feel free to contact me at Jamie.Willmuth@cityofboston.gov.

Date: Tue, 29 Mar 2005 14:52:37 -0500
From: "Arthur Hennessey" norfolk1a@hotmail.com
Subject: Mere Opinions- The Anti-Sponsorship Sponsorship of Theatre?
Hi Larry,
Brandon Kiley in Seattle's weekly Newspaper The Stranger has an interesting article on an Anti-smoking organization called Artpatch which is stepping in to fund Arts that have been left high and dry by the departure of tobacco money:
He writes:
"If it is successful, Artpatch will help fill the funding deficit left by Lucky Strike's departure last October. This is welcome news for antismoking warriors, but even better news for small arts groups scrambling for money."
You can read the full article here:

Artpatch Throws Some Money at Fringe Theater
by Brendan Kiley

Since the Union Playhouse was shut down by the fire department, it was fitting that its displaced production was saved by an antismoking organization. The Patch Project (AKA Artpatch) swooped in last month to help Influence, giving it enough money to rent theater space for the rest of its run.

This was Artpatch's first foray into theater, but won't be its last. Founded last summer in response to Lucky Strike's hefty sponsorship of Seattle arts (including grants to Consolidated Works, the Genius Awards, and CoCA), Artpatch has primarily focused on visual art and music events like The Stranger's Big Shot music showcase. The nonprofit, currently funded by King County Public Health's Tobacco Prevention Program, wants to diversify and is talking to fringe theaters about sponsorship possibilities in April.

If it is successful, Artpatch will help fill the funding deficit left by Lucky Strike's departure last October. This is welcome news for antismoking warriors, but even better news for small arts groups scrambling for money.

"Larger organizations like the Rep and SAM are mostly taken care of," said Roger Valdez, manager of the Tobacco Prevention Program. "They've got a brand. But we need to help local, struggling arts groups--we were able to save Influence for $2,500. That's the kind of thing Lucky was doing and getting a big splash for themselves."

Lucky Strike came on the scene in 2002, sponsoring The Stranger's South by Southwest sendoff party for bands on their way to the Austin music festival. The company went on to sponsor fringe art events, sparking a debate among artists about the ethics of accepting tobacco money. In October Lucky Strike pulled out of Seattle, leaving organizations like ConWorks (which had a third of its 2002 expenses covered by Lucky Strike) in serious withdrawal.

Artpatch's timing is a little ironic, given that it appeared just as Lucky Strike was packing up shop. "I suspect they'll be back," Valdez said. "It's best to attack your enemy when they're in retreat."

But no corporate sponsors have stepped up to fill the hole Lucky Strike left behind. "I haven't seen anything like it," said Michael Seiwerath, director of the Northwest Film Forum (which declined a proposed Lucky Strike project). "They dumped an insane amount of money here--they must have spent $900 a smoker."

A couple of theories have surfaced to explain Lucky Strike's departure, from bad press to legal trouble in other states. Last June, the attorneys general of Maryland, New York, and Illinois sued Brown & Williamson (Lucky's parent company) for its Kool Mixx campaign, which targeted the hiphop crowd with events at bars and nightclubs, CD giveaways, and cigarette-pack art. The AGs argued that Kool Mixx violated advertising restrictions established in the national tobacco settlement in 1998. The Brown & Williamson case was settled in October 2004, just as B&W began its retreat from Seattle.

B&W had also merged with a larger tobacco company, RJ Reynolds, in July 2004. A source close to Lucky Strike says that's the only reason the arts-funding program ended: "It wasn't bad press, just a business decision by RJR."

Valdez doesn't think Lucky Strike's absence renders Artpatch irrelevant. "A healthy community needs a healthy art community," Valdez said. "There's a civic interest in filling potholes and there's a civic interest in helping small arts groups."

None of the organizations that benefited from the Lucky Strike program will say exactly how much money they received, but some staffers privately guess the company gave away more than $200,000 a year. Most of the Seattle arts community, including those who accepted Lucky Strike grants, thought of the money as part of a slick, understated marketing campaign. The source close to Lucky Strike disagreed, saying it was less about advertising than a longstanding effort by Brown & Williamson to support arts organizations.

"It would be cheaper and more cost-effective to just barrage people with print ads," he said. "Artpatch is oversimplifying what happened, waving the tobacco flag to ensure their own funding. And they're harming potential funding from RJR and other non-tobacco companies, making them shy away from wanting to get involved."

Regardless of Lucky Strike's motives, everyone agrees that arts organizations are in crisis and that money, from any source, is welcome. If Artpatch manages to establish itself as a sustainable, long-term benefactor for fringe arts, its relationship to Lucky Strike will become secondary. Lucky Strike and the debate it sparked have all but evaporated, but the financial hole remains.

Date: Fri, 25 Mar 2005 20:54:33 -0800 (PST)
From: Julie Levene jplevene2004@yahoo.com

Map of Hicksville
A Commentary on Why People Don’t See Plays

by J.P. Levene

When people promote a play, really talk about it like it’s the cat’s meow, they attract the nontraditional theatergoing friend to go. But until that happens, to that friend the theater seems like a foreign place they cannot picture themselves benefiting. The solution therefore becomes to take the play out of the theater and into the community. Sidewalk trailers, coming attractions performed live on the streets with pamphlets readily available for people to take home, ponder, and then hopefully purchase tickets. People would love it! It makes sense when you think about how tempting it is to eavesdrop on a dramatically loud conversation. We want to observe drama. It’s in our blood. So perhaps the answer is to take theatre to the public arena and then, once its irresistible appeal is realized, Mohammed may go to the mountain.

I adore good theatre. My eyes well up talking about it or hearing people talk about it. So when even myself hesitates to jump at the chance to see work in progress for free, I question what’s inherently stopping the creative fruition of writer, producer, director, actor and audience member?

I never studied theatre and I don’t even know what expressionism is really, but I salivate at the thought of witnessing something inventive and, given the right mood, borderline bizarre. I can watch Chekhov repeatedly. I swoon listening to Shakespeare’s verses. But I that it may be a case of the mountain going to Mohammed.

It just struck me, since I signed up to receive e-mail news from a local theater which is a majestic point of contact for theatre artists and a beacon of theatrical creation, that a lot of people don’t go to the theater for a reason because they just don’t know what to expect and they doubt whether they’re “theatre” types. I got to thinking why even I myself, a lover of all things theatre-related (I even considered theater seating for my living room), would pass on attending a free Monday night reading.

It’s not that it’s inconvenient. No more inconvenient than a new re lease at a cinema or succulent oysters at a restaurant or a pub with great burgers. It may be that it’s thought to be expensive, though in my case I do know readings are wonderfully free, and some workshop productions ask only a voluntary contribution. It’s not because it’s not rewarding because let’s face it, some of people’s fondest memories hark back to a matinee of a play off-Broadway or an evening with a special friend for a revival of a play in Hicksville [an actual town in Long Island (pardon the regional flavor but I was Bronx-born and Jersey-raised)].

My own dearest theatrical recollection was my precious mother --- who took me to pricey Broadway shows on occasion, when that priceless single parent of five could have allocated those funds to other endeavor --- taking me to Hurly Burly on Broadway starring Frank Langella and Danny Aiello, in what she thought would be a vaudevillian romp, fun for parents and young children alike. What she realized was the subject matter and language called for too many signs of the cross for us to stay past intermission.

So I suppose the real proposal here is to take 5 minutes of a show to the Boston Common, Newbury Street, etc. and give people a feel for what they can enjoy. Coming attractions. They work for cinema. Why not theatre?

Date: Wed, 16 Mar 2005 12:53:58 -0500
From: "Kim Carrell" cyrano3112@hotmail.com
Subject: Fire regs

Larry -
Please pardon me for being "behind the times" with this response.

I wanted to applaud you for your Feb. 20th comments on the over-zealous fire regulations that local spaces are forced to deal with in the wake of the Station nightclub tragedy. (Not to put too fine a point on it...there's that word NIGHTCLUB again). I'll gladly take the bullet for saying it - local theatres are on the receiving end of a knee-jerk reaction to this disaster. The conditions that brought about the Station fire DO NOT EXIST in any Boston space in which I have performed. While it is important to keep electrics and TRULY neccesary fireproofing up to spec, to threaten to stop a production's opening because a single set piece may not have been treated with exactly the type of fireproofing the local Fire Marshal demands is absurd. (I am not making that example up - it has happened).

No one would dream of denying that the Station fire was a horrific tragedy. It was also very preventable. We've all seen the frightening video of the fire starting on the stage as the band's pyro devices fired. Any so-called "pyrotechnic expert" who would use those devices in an area with such a low ceiling and with ANY flammable material nearby is no "expert"...he is an indefensible idiot and criminally negligent to boot. Nor are the club owners without a huge share of blame...but we all know this. Not only do these conditions NOT exist in any local space I am familiar with, I have never dealt with a technical director remotely as stupid as Great White's obviously was. But local theatres are forced to deal with the fallout.

My question is - how do we address this? When a local theatre questions these regulations they are simply told that the Fire Marshal will stop the production. Small companies on very limited budgets are forced to go to additional expense to meet these regulations. When these companies tell the Fire Marshal that their spaces meet Broadway fire safety standards they are told that that is not good enough.

How do we get the local Fire Marshals to stop trying to look important and get realistic about this?

Kim H. Carrell
Actor/Fight Director

Date: Wed, 02 Mar 2005 13:12:09 -0500
From: "Arthur Hennessey" norfolk1a@hotmail.com
Subject: Globe Attack

Hey Larry, I have a post on my blog about the Herald and Globe reviews of Homebody. Ed Seigel was amazingly destructive in his review. I thought the production was great. (Although I did agree on a major point of the Globe review.)
I am interested to hear your thoughts on how reviewers should approach a production with the memory of a previous one still fresh in his or her head?

In the days when I reviewed for a newspaper, I learned that when seeing a new production of a play, inevitably I would be expecting The Same Experience; and so, when things were different, when emphases fell on different aspects of the script, my response would be Negative.
And when I realized that was true, I knew it meant I couldn't possibly see the new production with the same Fresh Eyes that everyone else in the audience brough to the experience.
And so --- especially if I had LIKED the first production --- I tried every possible way to get someone ELSE to do the review.
I didn't want people short-changed when they expected a fair and unbiased report on What Was On That Stage This Time.
But then, I was never really A Critic, was I?
And now you know why I don't read newspapers here in Boston anymore........
I just found Ed Siegel's review via internet:
And, no He Did NOT see the same show I did:
And I think Art's right: he couldn't even SEE this production, because he had something in his eye.

The Station N I G H T C L U B Fire
Was a Disiaster
For Small T H E A T R E S in BOSTON! ! !

11:27 p m Sunday, 20 February, 2005
It's still not too late for me to say I'm writing this on the second anniversary of a tragic accidental fire down in Warwick, Rhode Island, which snuffed out a horrid number of innocent lives that cannot be replaced. Ceremonies remembering the loss of those lives, and investigations and public trials designed to find out how such a tragedy could have happened and how anything like it can be prevented from happening again are, in my opinion, thoroughly justified.

But I want to point out that the fire swept through a ROCK CONCERT at an over-Sold and over-Crowded
N I G H T C L U B and it sparked immediate memories of another tragic disaster that happened years ago in Another N I G H T C L U B here in Boston called The Coconut Grove.

Because these disasters happened, stringent fire-laws were enacted in this area which deal with thorough inspections of ANY site where performances --- including, I think, even Sunday worship services in churches --- are given before the general public that include stringent restrictions of the numbers of people that may be admitted and the shapes and sizes of aisles giving access to fire-exits.

These laws apply to spaces at which Plays, Musicals, and Cabarets are performed
Even though, to my knowledge, There Has N E V E R Been A Fire causing loss of life in ANY Such Establishment.
Such laws, for instance, limit not only the number of Seated Customers in the auditorium --- in The Hovey Players space in Waltham, which seats 52 ---but also includes the number of ACTORS, STAGE-HANDS, and TECHNICIANS as well. And strict enforcement of capacity in such cases can strangle a small company, or force choices of production that have to do not with artistic but merely "Capacity" considerations. In point of fact, the highly successful "Summer Shorts" productions at The Hovey forced actors waiting to go on for one of many ten-minute plays to wait not in the Greenroom, but out in the alley beside the theatre when not performing.

I don't know of a genuine PLAY-space anywhere that deliberately and consistently over-sells or over-crowds performances --- hell, most Theatrical shows regard a "Sold Out" sign as a victory, and turn away paying customers when it goes up.

My Opinion is that concentration should be on rigorous annual inspection of all electrical equipment and approval of safe sets and costumes rather than putting a straight-jacket on the number of tickets that might be sold or the limits to the number of bodies in these performing spaces.
===Larry Stark

From: "Arthur Hennessey" norfolk1a@hotmail.com
Subject: Mere Opinion - Cultivating Critics
Date: Tue, 15 Feb 2005 17:28:45 -0500

Hi Larry,
Could you post the following to Mere Opinions, please. It is interesting in light of the critics panel last year.
. ************************

Cultivating Critics

From where will our next theatre critics emerge? If some people had their way, they would continue to come from the restaraunt pages.
But in a more serious response to the question, the Village Voice is launching a new monthly roundup of criticism from students at the more prestigious Drama Programs in the "commutable" area of New York City. (Lucky for ART Institute Student Stella Gorlin that we have the Acela, so she gets to contribute.)
The first entry can be found here:

The Voice states in its intro to the series: "In an era of the theater review as consumer report, our mission is obvious: To expand the theatrical conversation by providing a venue for the next generation of serious theater critics."

The monthly section is called University Wits and this month the critics tackle Richard Foreman's newest play, The Gods are Pounding My Head (AKA Lumberjack Messiah.)

One refreshing thing I noticed right off was the great sense of enthusiasm in the reviews. And note that even in Mark (Yale Drama) Blankenship's mixed review, he goes out of his way to praise what the effort and intentions are.

I am interested if the positive nature of these reviews would be called "cheerleading" by critics such as Bill Marx of WBUR.
The Village Voice offers up this as a forum for the next generation of "serious critics," and I wonder how long it will take these young critics to be jaded.
Will they be consigned to lonely Dramaturgy offices?
Will their critical skills and budding insights be eventually contorted into masturbatory scholarly argument in obscure theatrical journals.
Will they be beaten down by the capsulization pressures of commercial publications?
Will they eventually only be seen on a local cable access channel?
Will they become Software Marketing Specialists who can write one hell of an advertising copy.
I hope not.

My modest proposal is for them to start laying groundwork for an internet consortium of theatrical criticism.

P.S. As always, I would be interested to know what you think

From: "Arthur Hennessey" norfolk1a@hotmail.com
Subject: Fire Codes
Date: Mon, 31 Jan 2005 09:48:25 -0500

Hi Larry,
Good to see you the other night. Here is the article on fire codes in Seattle. It is by Brendan Kiley who is actually a very acerbic theatre columnist for The Stranger.
And here is link that will give you a quick overview of the fire code problems that happened in Chicago last year.

EXCERPTS FROM http://www.thestranger.com/current/theater2.html:

Code Breakers

by Brendan Kiley

The dreaded city building codes have laid another small theater low. Like the Union Playhouse on Capitol Hill, JEM Arts Center in Georgetown discovered it isn't up to fire and other city code standards. While the Playhouse continues to struggle to raise funds for renovations, JEM (which has hosted good work by Defibrillator, the Do Group, and resident company Strike Anywhere) has decided it has to close.

Firefighters showed up after a bogus phone call about someone trapped with a fiery stove in JEM's studio space (there is no stove in the studio space). During their investigation, they realized the Arts Center didn't have a certificate of occupancy, a requirement for spaces that regularly hold events for more than 49 people. Building Manager Jamie Johnson suspects the call was from a cranky tenant (she is in what she calls "unrelated legal pissing contests") but the damage was done.

"The firemen were really great," Johnson said. "They were glad we had an arts space in this building instead of having to pull out dead junkies like before." But Johnson estimates the necessary renovations would cost over $50,000.

"The economics of the situation stopped making sense," said Justin Beard, former director of JEM and co-artistic director of Strike Anywhere. "We're still going to run a full season, but we'll be nomadic."

Besides the fatal price tag, Beard and Johnson have been frustrated with the city's Department of Planning and Development, saying it has been unresponsive, vague, and difficult to work with. "It's been tough to make headway," Beard said.

Other small theaters (who asked to remain unidentified to prevent souring their relationships with the city) made similar complaints of inefficiency, excruciatingly slow responses, and being tossed back and forth between departments.

"It's Seattle," Johnson said. "I've been calling around to Cleveland and Detroit--they've got great support for turning abandoned buildings into arts spaces."

But bureaucratic snarls may be the price of doing business in a city that doesn't need Detroit's degree of urban renewal. I called Seattle's arts and culture office and 4Culture, King County's arts support program, and found their directors knowledgeable and genuinely interested in JEM's predicament--but maybe that's because they knew I'd be writing about it. So I called Brian Posen, founder of the Chicago Sketch Comedy Festival and longtime Chicago producer, actor, and director. He doesn't think Seattle has it so bad.

"Chicago is a great theater town," Posen said. "But you can open a porn shop in a day in this city--opening a theater takes at least two years. The codes are unbelievable." For example: Besides the usual fire/energy/access requirements, Chicago theaters have to provide four guaranteed parking spaces. Now that's a pain in the ass.

EXCERPTS FROM http://www.performink.com/12.24.04/_html/12-242004_AnnualReport.htm:

[ In PERFORMink Online ]

The year began with a crisis: five small Off-Loop theatres shut down by the Department of Revenue for not having the proper Public Place of Amusement (PPA) license. The periodic skirmishes between the theatre industry and various city departments over license and/or code violations had been going on for years, but this time the raids by the Revenuers—they actually were raids that emptied theatres in mid-performance—galvanized a counterattack.

Ultimately for the better, the Revenue raids underlined the inconsistencies and absurdities of the PPA codes as they applied to off-Loop theatres (vs., say, the United Center) and the Byzantine application process. A series of articles in the daily and weekly papers (and, notably, in this paper) generated a significant public outcry from theatre-goers that eventually reached the office of Mayor Richard M. Daley, who again demonstrated his commitment to the arts.

The Mayor directed a working group from the departments of Revenue, Fire, Building and Cultural Affairs, and representatives of the theatre industry, to come up with a simplified and revised PPA licensing code applicable to off-Loop theatres. The working group met for the first time last January and drafted new proposals by Labor Day. Meanwhile, all five of the shuttered theatres were fast-tracked through the licensing process and since have re-opened (although not without considerable cost, which even the Mayor couldn’t spare them).

In what may be its finest hour to date, the League of Chicago Theatres assumed a leadership role within days of the theatre closings, taking even the non-member playhouses under its wing, and carefully orchestrating an effective and measured public response while launching an intense private response with the city administration. The League’s efforts were a fitting launch to the League’s 25th anniversary year.

Artistically, 2004 began with a re-appearance and a disappearance. .....

Sharon Abramhoff Shipley's new play ["StarCrossed"]is coming to the East Coast where she was born!
(Not in Boston though; in Portsmouth!!

Sharyn Abramhoff Shipley has for years been The Theater Mirror's "Playwright NOT In Residence" ever since she shared with us the creation of the play she was working on [On Reflection] --- and feedback from its workshops and from Mirror correspondents.

I first met Sharyn Abramhoff while I was a book-pusher with the Booksmith chain and she was getting out of high school and into Life. After putting herself through Northeastern she took a lengthy, unstructured tour of Europe and came back with high-pass grades on her Law Boards in one hand, and the script of her first play "Portrait of A Wanton Queen" in the other. With little hesitation she ignored law-school to spend two years studying play-writing with William Gibson at Brandeis.
Then she took her mother off to the Left Coast, married and had some kids, and sent a note annoncing that her "Mother's Day in The Drunk Tank" was being done by LaMama West, and then --- once The Theater Mirror got under way --- she announced herself hard at work with a women's-character re-write of "Hamlet".

After quite a hiatus, this news just arrived:

From: "Sharyn Shipley" sashipley@comcast.net
Subject: StarCrossed by Sharyn Abramhoff Shipley
Date: Sun, 2 Jan 2005 17:33:29 -0800

Hi Larry,
Happy New Year! My new play, StarCrossed, is going to be performed in Portsmouth, NH opening Feb 4. I'll be there. Any chance you can make it?
Here's all the info - If you have a moment, tell me where else to send the release, will you?
Hope the New Year finds us all well, warm and well-fed.

January 1, 2005

Contact: Sharyn Shipley, sashipley@comcast.net or (425) 391-1189

Rolling World Premiere performance of STARCROSSED – the prequel to Romeo & Juliet

STARCROSSED, a new comedy by award-winning playwright, S.Abramhoff Shipley, will premiere at The Player’s Ring Theater in Portsmouth, N.H., February 4-20 and will be produced by Soul Soup Productions and directed by Billy Butler. For information or tickets, call (603) 436-8123.

The play is next slated to be produced by Steinbeck Presents at San Francisco’s Phoenix Theater from May 13-June 5. Directed by Jeffrey Hartgraves. For information or tickets, call (414) 820-1565 or (866) 811-4111.

STARCROSSED takes a hot blooded and wildly romantic perspective on the misadventures that led to the tragic vendetta between the Montagues and the Capulets. With bawdy humor and extraordinary consequences, lives hang in the balance as love, fortune, and honor are risked on the turn of a card, the edge of a sword. A tale of friendships gone awry and unforgivable acts committed in the name of love, this bawdy adventure of young lovers and fine swordplay is a prequel to Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet.

For more information on STARCROSSED, visit www.angelfire.com/in2/mywork.

S.A. Shipley, a Seattle-based playwright, is the author of more than twenty plays. She received the Dramalogue "Play of Year" Award for her comedy, CARYATIDS, and was a nominee for an NAACP Image Award. For more information on this play and about the playwright and her works, visit www.angelfire.com/in2/mywork.

Date: Mon, 29 Nov 2004 17:07:04 -0600
From: Jean Young youngjea@luther.edu
Subject: Re: About the "Arts & Leisure Guide" ..........

Whuffo you don' wanna know about the-ayter in Prague and Timbuktu? You some kinda redneck isolationist, or what? WHat about them hot li'l the-ayter groups in Antarctica? You pree-judist against them, too? You gotta be a WORLD citizen these days -- those li'l Penguin Performers NEED you! Who else gonna say something nice about them?
Battle on!
Cheers -- jean

Daniel Okrent, The Public Editor ( i.e. "Ombudsman")
The New York TIMES
229 West 43rd Street
tel: 1(212)556-7652

Dear Mr. Okrent:
I am one of those people protesting changes in the "Arts & Leisure Guide" in the Sunday editions of The New York TIMES.

I run a web-site here in Boston called The Theater Mirror; I see two to four plays here every week and try to write something about most of them. And I used to say "On Sundays I read Scripture --- Section Two of The N.Y. TIMES." That's less and less true these days, though.

When I devoured it eagerly in the past, what I wanted (Needed!) was well-written coverage of What Happened In NEW YORK --- the theater Capitol of America. And what that grey expanse of inchy-squinchy type on the n-minus-one page every week (which I hardly ever read, by the way) always showed me how Rich a broiling pile of arts activity New York City was.
(Remember the old house-ad saying "You don't have to read it all, but isn't it nice to know It's All There!"?)

Ever since the Hirschfeld drawings ceased to command the above-the-fold half of the Section Two front-page, the TIMES has been more and more turning its back not just on Theater there, but on Any arts in your city. For a while, you had an authority review Three Plays every week --- one positive, one negative, one so-so), so I felt I had a finger on the theatrical, pulse of the city. Not any more.

Now, when Nightingale sings I know what's doing in London, and there's big coverage of Prague and Paris and, oh, Timbuktu for all I know --- and more often than not, I can skip all that entirely.

It may indeed be true that there's NOTHING interesting happening on the stages of NYC anymore, but if so I do think The TIMES (which is, after all, America's Newspaper of Record) should fess up to its "Et TU, Brute?" whimper.

I'm certain theater is not dying in New York. BROADWAY Theater is dying there, just as it is here in Boston, but that only means that the paper needn't give it ink with previews, interviews, and post-mortems. If the paper's theater-monitors wanted to Reflect The State Of Theater there, they'd breathe a sigh of relief, shove the over-expensive dinosaurs aside, and give big, impressive coverage to the Really Important bubbles of smaller theatres doing exciting things elsewhere in the city.

Instead, you're busy with thearical trends in Azerbaijan and Tierra del Fuego. [I'm just speaking "hermetically" here...] The salaries added to the Section Two staff have resulted in my learning more about theatres everywhere in the world --- except in your very own back yard.

The "improvement" of that n-minus-one page every week is a Symptom, not the disease. The TIMES isn't a New York newspaper anymore; and in it's theater coverage it's less and less an American one.

In The Theater Mirror, every review is headed by the question
"What happened in Boston, Willy?"
And, underneath, I try to tell people exactly that.
Why can't you do the same?

( a k a larry stark )

[ NOTE: The "discussion" has begun. Scroll down for details.... ]

From: "Caroline Ellis" clbellis@earthlink.net
Subject: MERE Opinions
Date: Thu, 11 Nov 2004 15:43:34 -0500

I have read with great interest your exchange with Bill Marx on theater reviewing.

What can I say? People are different. You each contribute to Boston theater in your own way. And if one follows theater criticism here, one develops one's own way of assessing the reviewers and how their opinions apply to one's own interests. I don't think Boston could very well do without Larry's Theater Mirror, and I also know that when Bill raved about a new play at Stoneham, my neighbors bought tickets immediately because they knew a rave by a reviewer who is often critical had to be good.

I once wrote a "Lapin Agile" review for Vokes that they said they liked. You thought it harsh and wrote a rebuttal, which I thought was great. The more views, the merrier! And anyway, we saw that show on different nights.

In my own reviews, I aim to do several things: enjoy myself; let readers know what they might like (and not like) without being harsh, especially if it's community theater; support the individual theater by taking it seriously enough to be honest about the show; increase interest in the theater in general. I am particularly interested in new plays because I think they are often more fun and interesting than those vetted by Broadway and because the theater always needs new blood. I don't think there is any one way to review theater although, for myself, I generally mistrust anything that sounds like the theater's own press release.
Caroline Burlingham Ellis

[ EXPLANATORY NOTE: Last night {10 Nov} I found a REPLY that Bill Marx had sent me in my e-mail archives. Apparently I thought it just another note about another WBUR column of his, set it aside to read later, and simply forgot to do so! First, this is my note to the HERE AND NOW program (Every week-day noon 90.9fm): ]

From: larrystark@verizon.net
Date: 2004/10/18 Mon AM 04:40:33 EDT
To: letters@here-now.org
Subject: The Comical Tragedy of Criticism

Why does Bill Marx insist on jamming his comedy-tragedy critical cubbyholes down on August Wilson's cycle of plays?
Is HENRY THE FIFTH a comedy? (It DOES end in marriage after all!)
Are the HENRY THE SIXTH plays farces?
Will Shakespeare left us a perfectly good "category" for August Wilson's plays:
The fact that they are, quite poetically, concerned with common people rather than kings is the way we think now, but what else would you call ten plays, one per decade?
Sometimes critics read too much and see too little.........
(a k a larry stark )
[I live in Roxbury]

[ This was his reply:}

From: "Bill Marx" bmarx@WBUR.BU.EDU
Organization: The WBUR Group
To: larrystark@verizon.net
Date: Tue, 19 Oct 2004 17:03:23 -005
Subject: tragical-comical reponse

Good to hear from you -- though I was expecting something a little more power-packed. Yes, catagories are an intellectual game, but it is a game that has engaged every first rate critic from Aristotle to Shaw. It is one way to talk about plays, no more and no less. As for Shakespeare, would you call "Merchant of Venice" a comedy? John Gross would -- is it not worth arguing with him? And why isn't considering issues of classification valuable, as long as they don't become an end in itself? August Wilson in the "Histories" category - - that is an interesting suggestion, worth thinking and talking about, though I am not sure how the mystical archetypes that pop up in "Gem of the Ocean" would fit in.

But you are not about thinking in "Theater Mirror," which, given the lack of reviewing space today, is a tragedy. Frankly, your policy of only writing or speaking negative words about productions to directors is a terrible model for criticism. I defy you to come up with a single major critic (even respected reviewer would do, Kerr, etc) who believed that -- many of the finest reviews of Shaw, Tynan, Bentley, et al would not exist. Aristotle might not have written on drama, figuring that he should send a messenger to the director instead.

"Theater Mirror" will not be a serious site about theater until it takes critical standards seriously enough to talk publically about the good and bad and why. I notice that, bubbling beneath the usual raves for the usual suspects, there are healthy signs of disconent, questions about credibility and usefulness. Someday those voices will become louder and your mirror will reflect criticism, not supportive hype.
Thanks for writing Bill Marx
Arts Critic
890 Commonwealth Avenue, Third Floor
Boston, MA 02215


My own quibbles about this usually revolve around the difference between a "review" and a "critique" --- between a "report" on what happened on the stage and a "consideration" of what happened there --- between readers who have NOT seen the show yet, and those who have.
I think the only distinction you've ever seen is between "bad" criticism and "good" criticism In REVIEWS.
Maybe we should talk about that....

Break a leg....
( a k a larry stark )

From: "Bill Marx" bmarx@WBUR.BU.EDU
To: Larry Stark larry@theatermirror.com
Date: Wed, 10 Nov 2004 14:05:28 -005
Subject: Re: tragical-comical reponse

The point is that criticism is about reporting your reactions, pro or con, about a production, not reserving your negative comments for talks with the director. No major critic has done that. If one of them did, it would make them minor pretty quickly. As for report and review, it is a false distinction -- at least outside of a grammar school. Kids do book reports in which they describe the contents of a book -- sometimes they also register their reactions. In my grammar school you were free to dislike a book in class-- no teacher asked students to call the author if they had reservations.

The best reviewers describe a show and critique it at the same time. For example, few critics limned good and bad acting with the sharp eye of Ken Tynan, who was a tough evaluator. This is not an encouraging time for theater criticism -- space in major newspapers and magazines is shrinking while the amount of puffery (sometimes masquerading as reviews) is growing. My feeling is that the web will be one of the few places where genuine criticism will be found in the future, and to argue that criticism should only present description (as long as it is admiring) is pernicious. Anyone who cares about criticism as an incisive, passionate discourse that takes theater seriously, that fights for high standards, should combat it.
Bill Marx Arts Critic
890 Commonwealth Avenue, Third Floor
Boston, MA 02215

AND LARRY AGAIN REPLIES @5:58 a m Veterans Day:

"The best reviewers describe a show and critique it at the same time."

Of course, Bill, and I really wish there were a Shaw, a Tynan, a Bentley, an Aristotle working here in Boston right now who could. But, unfortunately, Eliot Norton is dead and no one has really taken his place.

"The point is that criticism is about reporting your reactions, pro or con, about a production, not reserving your negative comments for talks with the director. No major critic has done that. If one of them did, it would make them minor pretty quickly."

That is "a dirty Protestant lie" Bill.
During his years here in Boston, every time a play came through Boston on try-out, the producers, directors, and playwrights asked to have lunch with Eliot Norton, to hear what he had to say about the show and how it might be improved. And they left those lunches aware that they, And Mr. Norton, were all trying to make that show better.
His farewell to me, the only two times we really talked, was to say "I am always glad to talk with anyone who truly loves the theatre."
And I don't think those lunches damaged his critical reputation; do you?

"Frankly, your policy of writing or speaking negative words about productions only to directors is a terrible model for criticism. "

"There you go again!"
Why must you insist that the only good critic is a foam-lipped zealot approaching theater with a battleaxe in one hand a vial of acid in the other? I don't detest bad shows; I feel bad for the people involved with them. And I really like to LIKE shows --- something you are apparently incapable of understanding.

Okay, now let me say a few things first in defense of The Mirror, then in defense of myself:

The Theater Mirror is intended to REFLECT theater; not to "improve" it. Until NET411 took over, I busted ass to list every show I could find in the six New England states not to tell readers how BAD their plays were, but merely to tell them that plays existed --- more plays than any of those readers might have realized they could see. (You may not be aware of how Much theater happens areound here; I doubt you've ever seen two to five plays every week, as I usually try to do.)
I admit I happen to be an advocate, not a nemesis --- because I do love what's There instead of bitching that it could be better.
Everyone who makes theater, everywhere, always Knows it could be better, and they don't need you to trumpet shortcoming you will never understand weren't deliberately introduced to annoy You. What they need is a little understanding.

But about the Reviews in The Mirror:
I don't have a "stable"; I don't "send" reviewers; I don't edit what they send me. And I wish more people Would send Reviews and Quick-Takes to me, so that the people who read The Mirror aren't stuck believing the Boston GLOBE has the only opinions anyone should take seriously. What these reviewers say is Their business, not mine. Most of the people who send me things seem to want to talk about what they Liked not what they hated, but I too would dearly love to have today's Tynans, Bentley's Shaws and Aristotle send me reviews --- yes, even if they turn out to be as opinion-centric as your own. They'll go up, unedited.

And I do not think The Mirror offers a One Style Fits All attitude.
If it's "criticism" you want, read Carl A. Rossi's pieces, or concentrate on Will Stackman's pithy putdowns.
[ By the way, Carl is a playwright with a fat resume, and Will taught and directed theater before helping run The Puppet Showplace. I spent five years working backstage in Cambridge on every show that came along before I ever wrote a word of "criticism". When was the last time you got Your hands dirty making a play, Bill? ]
Rather than a hang-out for hired thugs hoping to gain stature by beating up defenseless actors and playwrights, The Mirror seems to attract people who Do love theater, often love it enough to get involved in making it themselves. And that's fine with me, too.

"As for report and review, it is a false distinction -- "

Not "report" and "review"--- "review" and "critique".
I have never pretended to be, or wanted to be a "critic". I don't know enough. (For years I have insisted "All I do is Review Plays".) But that distinction means I should say something about me:

1) In the first months we worked together, Joe Hanlon sent me to review an English movie version of a "kitchen drama". Then he called saying the movie closed before the review was printed, but he liked the review, thought I had done exactly what he wanted, and then he asked "Did you like it, by the way?" And I said yeah, I did. "I thought so," he mused --- and I still wear that gold star of his approval.
Joe was an undergraduate working at MIT on their weekly "The Tech" --- but later on (and don't let Steve Mindich tell you otherwise) Joe created BOSTON AFTER DARK and was its editor for its first full year.
2) When I interviewed him, William Gibson told me he had rounded a corner once to discover that an old, fondly respected theatre had been renamed The Brooks Atkinson. "That's like taking a Federal building and calling it 'The Benedict Arnold'!" he said.
3) And he told me that, as a "consumers' guide" all reviewers usually were right about the good or bad of a show, "But, if I knew anything about a show, invariably I knew that those critics assigned praise or blame to The Wrong People."

As B.A.D. grew and added more pages, I tried to review every show that opened in the city; if eight shows opened one week, I looked for two or three other reviewers to cover what I couldn't see. And after a while, the New England Theatre Conference cited B.A.D. for its support of local theater. While I was working there, up till the end, I tried to make it the "paper of record" about theater here in Boston, and when a new editor told me "only one major review a week" was what he really wanted, I quit and went off to Rockport to sulk.

Of course, that's just history.
But two or three years before I quit, Greg MacDonald (the Arts Ed then) told me "The GLOBE doesn't review little theatres because we can't do them any good. If we pan them, they collapse and disappear; if we praise them, their best talents run off to New York and they still collapse."
And yet (and I have no idea whether the example I built at B.A.D. had anything to do with it) about six months after Greg said that, the GLOBE hired William A. Henry III to cover --- those very same small theatres I had reviewed while the GLOBE couldn't. (After he had learned to write, Bill shifted from theater to t-v and earned the GLOBE a Pulitzer Prize.)
No doubt your fiery critiques have by now won you countless such awards, prizes and citations, but my one --- and Joe Hanlon's gold star --- are quite enough for me. But if I had a hand, however slight, in creating the job you held at the GLOBE, and if my six years there created the one you had earlier at what is now called THE PHOENIX --- well,I just marvel at those possibilities.

But back to the real question at hand:
"As for report and critique, it is a false distinction -- "
The hell it is!
It is impossible for anyone to write a review without betraying an opinion; the very words chosen in an "objective" statement show that. But coming into the job determined to Make Pronouncements ("for everyone's own good" of course!) leads eventually to a gargantuan elephantiasis of the ego --- and I have always thought of you as the textbook example of that.
When I read a review I don't much give a flying fuck what YOU think; I'm looking for enough information to tell me what I Myself might think of the same show. Really, the only people who need Your opinions are people who haven't any of their own. And the bigger you make your pontifications, the less space you have left over to tip me off to what the hell it was you SAW. Just Give The News Please, then get out of the way and let me make up my own mind.

And then, after you've Thought about it a while, write a longer Critique and, if I've seen the same show, we can go out in the alley and discuss the matter.

Consider this, Bill:
You have been the poster-boy for "Criticism" for how many years with B.A.D. and then with The GLOBE?
And how, please tell me, has that IMPROVED the state of the theater arts here in Boston through those years? Has your nattering-nabob-of-negativism act enlarged the awareness of any of your readers as to what Good Theater ought to be? Have you significantly narrowed the field by closing all the many inadequate companies in town to let the few good ones prosper and excell --- even in Your self-centered eyes? Have you driven all the awful actors here to retirement and suicide so the handful you Can praise stand out? It seems to me that your rages about the paucity of "good critics" (i.e. those like yourself) sound like a lonely little scold whining in the wilderness because, since you cut yourself loose from the power of the GLOBE, no one takes you seriously anymore. And perhaps I offend you so much because some people do pay some attention to me.

If you had spent all those years seeking out the few sparks of GOOD Theater and doing your damnedest to fan them into torches; if your reviews instead of savaging the bad had championed the good, I think we both would find theater here in Boston much more to your liking and to mine. But I don't see, after your long career of cursing the darkness, that you ever tried to help people light a few candles.

( Is this "a little more power-packed" perhaps?)


TO: "John Michael Kennedy" JMKennedy@huntingtontheatre.bu.edu
FROM: Larry Stark larry@theatermirror.com
SUBJECT: Tickets to see GEM in its closing week ???

I am larry stark, and I operate The Theater Mirror
[ http//www.theatermirror.com/ ]
I write about theater --- sometimes I manage to write Reviews; sometimes it's just a mention in the THAT WAS THE WEEK THAT WAS column.
Probably more important, though, I'm still a voting member of the steering-committee for the Independent Reviewers of New England, ( the IRNE people) which gives awards for excellence every year.

When this season opened with EVERYONE putting up new shows, I couldn't make it to the press-night of GEM OF THE OCEAN.
But then, when I heard there were important cast-changes shortly Before press-night, I decided it would be better to see the show at the END of the run --- since it is, apparently, a "Broadway try-out" working kinks out of its system.
SO, if you can, I'm asking for a pair of tickets to one of the performances Tuesday or Wednesday or Friday or Saturday of the week of 25 - 30 October.

I know it's a Major Event and, normally, in that event I'd ask for only one comp;
however, down the hall in my Elder Housing building is a gentleman who is both Black and eager to see plays --- and financially incapable of buying a ticket (just like me!).

I was in the S.R.O. audience at Roxbury Community College when Mr. Wilson did his Standing-O performance! And a week from Sunday I'll be at the Up You Mighty Race production of JOE TURNER'S COME AND GONE, just as I was over at UMass for their production of FENCES.
I think you can see why I'd like to see GEM!!!

I left a probably incoherent phone-message a few moments ago.
If you can get back to me by either voice- or e-mail I'd appreciate it. I know you're busy, but with four shows on my dance-card next week alone, So Am I !!!!

Break a leg, in any case. Love,
( a k a larry stark )

The Mirror did get a review sent in by Carl A. Rossi
[ http//www.theatermirror.com/CRgotohtc.htm ].

I don't have a "stable" or "send" reviewers, but many people regularly send me reviews or quick-takes.
So I don't feel too bad about writing too few full reviews of the 95 shows I've seen so far this year.

Date: Tue, 12 Oct 2004 13:34:34 -0400 From: "John Michael Kennedy" JMKennedy@huntingtontheatre.bu.edu
To: larry@theatermirror.com
Subject: Re: Tickets to see GEM in its closing week ???

Happy to oblige, although I'd like to think you get a review up before the show closes in Boston. IS that possible? Given that, I'd like to work out the tickets for earlier that week...doable? Let me konw which date (Tues or Weds) works better...jmk

TO: "John Michael Kennedy" JMKennedy@huntingtontheatre.bu.edu
FROM: Larry Stark larry@theatermirror.com
SUBJECT: Re: Tickets to see GEM in its closing week ???

Sorry, but no, I cannot GUARANTEE a review. I thought I made that clear.
For one thing, when I started The Mirror I decided that, since I see no value in them, I would not (myself) write any negative reviews for plays I didn't like --- unless the enormous ticket-price or enormous p/r campaign or enormous notareity contrasted sharply with the actual quality of the show itself.
Admittedly, my threshold is low, but I prefer to send a personal e-mail explaining why a review was NOT written to the director in question.
I doubt the Huntington would qualify on either ground --- but I understand that you can't take the risk.

I won't waste your precious time in the future.
( a k a larry stark )

Date: Wed, 29 Sep 2004 13:13:07 -0400 (GMT-04:00)
From: Caroline Ellis clbellis@earthlink.net

I really appreciated Arthur Hennessey's insightful MERE OPINION of Fri, 24 Sep 2004. I don't know him, but I laughed outloud when he described particular critics' hobbyhorses (Bill Marx prefers GB Shaw; Ed Siegel compares plays to movies since he was a movie critic first). I probably have a few hobbyhorses of my own (playwrights like Steve Martin who have an unfair advantage getting a stage bcs they are celebrities). I actually think our Boston critics are supportive of new work. The reason they don't review it much is probably that their employers insist they first cover whoever buys the biggest ads. No? But they do have to review plays honestly. To me, the greatest compliment you can pay is to take the show seriously enough to be honest.

I think the reviewers know there are audiences for reviews of new work. Maybe some outlet could institute an "Offbeat Show of the Month (Season?)" as a regular feature. If they did it on radio, it could be introduced by bugles. Might catch on.

From: "Arthur Hennessey" norfolk1a@hotmail.com
Subject: Mere Opinion - Did Mainstream Critics Put Their Money Where Their "Moomtaj" Is?
Date: Fri, 24 Sep 2004 17:44:57 -0400

Hi Larry,
I am just following up to my last posting in Mere Opinions and wondering...
Did Mainstream Critics Put Their Money Where Their 'Moomtaj' Is?
In my last Mere Opinions, I linked to the Globe, Herald, and WBUR theatre columns about risky business on the stages around town. The concerns raised by all three were centered around the paucity of either Boston, Regional, or World Premieres in the area, and whether or not local companies would step up to the plate.

Well, New Rep snagged the World Premiere of Michael Weller’s new play Approaching Moomtaj. The TheatrerMirror crew, (Larry, Carl Rossi, and Will Stackman,) all appear to have had a good time at the show, but with some reservations as to the strength of the piece. However, the proclamations from the Elliot Norton gang ranged from useless, to tedious, to catastrophic, which kind of mirrors the three scenarios laid out in the recent National Intelligence Estimate for Iraq.

The important thing to me though is…How did the Guardians of The Culture address the New Rep’s courage in its endeavor?

Terry Byrne is the best friend small theatre has right now in the mainstream press. She really is going out of her way to mention fringe and small theatre companies in her columns. (Rough and Tumble, Company One, Mill Six, Etc.) In fact, she even went so far as to list, in detail, where people can see theatre at out of the way spaces.>BR> However, with regards to Moomtaj…
Ms. Byrne, who confusingly chastised us all for not being risky enough to mount Beauty and the Beast, found herself so disconnected from the play’s theme that she seemed a little detatched through the whole review. (Not quite as harsh as her Tommy review, which probably prompted some readers to actaully send condolence cards to the musicians.)
Aside from the obligatory “World Premiere” prefix in her introduction to the Weller play, she doesn’t go out of her way to address New Rep’s risk in mounting this production. This seems odd since she praised them for their courage in mounting Sweeney Todd, (a project with a built in cult audience.)

Now that Caroline or Change has closed on Broadway, Ed Siegel will have to wait anxiously to see who will pick it up here. But in the meantime he seems willing enough to patiently wait through arduous evenings of World Premieres of unkown plays.
Going a little heavier on the congratulations than Terry Byrne, he mentions in the first paragraph: "The New Repertory Theatre has pulled off something of a coup in attracting the world premiere.." However, little else is mentioned with regards to this because Mr.Siegel has to save column space for both of his favorite past times:
1. Plugging the American Repertory Theatre: "So enter, much to this production's benefit, Thomas Derrah as Wylie. Derrah's ability to get inside Wylie's irreverence and keep us guessing about the character's machinations and motives provides the spice of "Moomtaj." His Wylie is the kind of guy who reminds you what it was like to inhale, and then inhale some more, with or without "White Rabbit" playing in the background. The interplay between American Repertory Theatre veteran Derrah and New York actor Robert Prescott as Walker is terrific…"
2. Comparing Theatre to the Movies: "When you compare the people and the metaphors of 'Approaching Moomtaj' to their counterparts in a similar exercise, 'The Singing Detective,' 'Moomtaj' seems like a landscape still in need of artistic development."

Bill Marx, who made the strongest and clearest argument for " world" premieres, knows he has to spend at least some time addressing this, and he does so by gritting his teeth and getting it over with in the first sentence: "The New Repertory Theatre kicks off its 20th season with something risky and that is to be congratulated. Not only is ‘Approaching Moomtaj’ a world premiere production but it is also a play that deals with the reverberations of 9/11 in the American psyche."

However, the formalities end there. For even though Moomtaj is a World Premiere by a known playwright, it has three middlebrow strikes against it: the playwright is American, the Play was written after George Bernard Shaw’s passing, and it tries to deal with technology as an impact on our lives. In other words, it already has three limbs cut off when starting the Highbrow steeplechase.

From: "Arthur Hennessey" norfolk1a@hotmail.com
Subject: Mere Opinion - Terry, Ed Siegel and Marx...Oh My!
Date: Tue, 14 Sep 2004 17:07:42 -0400

The season is upon us again and I know that everybody is knee deep in production.

I thought people want to see a quick links to what our critics are saying about our community in general:

Ed Siegel, Boston Globe wants to see more "New Musicals" (Well not really new... Ummm more like musicals he really really likes already.)


Terry Byrne thinks we should be more daring...but seems a little confused on what daring really is... (For instance, she praises Company One's daring by mentioning their productions of Stephen Guirgus plays, which were successes all over the globe, rather than mentioning thier risk in staging A Clockwork Orange this past summer.)


And Bill Marx takes Ed and Terry to task saying that "world" premieres are the foundation blocks that companies should be looking for, not plays others have risked to create. (Marx also seems to have solved the "Case of the Missing Paris Letter" which Terry Byrne questioned in a column this past summer, and I think Will Stackman mentioned when the Huntington released their announcement of this current season.)


Hi Larry,
Is this a sign that the critics see enough talent in us that they can at least start to hope that we can become a world class theatre town?

American Theatre had a "point-counterpoint" last year that argued about how important journalism was to theatre. Part of the argument, if I remember, ran along these lines:

Sports Reporters know every nook and cranny of the clubhouse and they report on it in the sports pages. They are allowed in the locker rooms and have access to the players. The reporter can rip the Sox to shreds about a game, but the reporter is welcome at next day's batting practice. However, in the case of theatre...rehearsals are closed, stars rarely give interviews...(as opposed to the movie industry,) and critics are viewed as the enemy.

You may disagree or agree with any of these columns, but they mention a lot of companies, big and small.

From: DramaBear@aol.com
Date: Tue, 14 Sep 2004 12:15:54 EDT

Upfront Political Artist Taps Inner Show Queen

September 14, 2004

Here's news: many gay men are inordinately fond of Broadway musicals. You've heard? O.K., for most of us that's not a revelation. But as awareness has spread that homosexual men come in all shapes, sizes, levels of fabulousness and even political persuasions, once-reviled gay stereotypes have made a raging comeback. It has become permissible once again to depict gay men engaging in such previously disgraced activities as dithering and decorating. (See, for example, Jack on "Will & Grace," and those five fellows seemingly in permanent rotation on Bravo.)

Accordingly, even the unlikeliest candidates are feeling free to unleash their inner show queen. Surely among the most surprising is Tim Miller, the fiercely political gay performance artist who is now gabbing merrily about his childhood crush on the star of "Oliver!" in his new solo show, "Us,'' at P.S. 122. Show queen is, of course, the technical term for a person, of either gender and any sexual orientation, who is inordinately fond of Broadway musicals. (Defining traits vary, but possession of the original cast album of "Flahooley'' and intimate knowledge of the career of Dolores Gray are pretty firm indicators.) Mr. Miller's bona fides as an artist of righteous political commitment might seem to exclude him from this category. He briefly tasted infamy or, from another perspective, glory as a member of the "N.E.A. Four,'' artists whose financing was revoked in 1990 by the arts endowment after right-wing politicians objected to the content of their work. Mr. Miller's frankly explicit, ardently polemical performances have often explored the intersection between sexual identity and moral consciousness.

But as he sets out to illustrate here, a highly developed social conscience does not necessarily preclude a deep immersion in the cheery aesthetics of the American musical. Indeed, Mr. Miller may never have put forth a more provocative idea than the one that informs the finest moments of this often delightful but uneven show: namely, that his proudly radical queer politics were indelibly shaped by a youthful obsession with Broadway musicals. As he puts it: "I learned everything I needed to know from these shows about love, politics and America. Forget Marx and Engels, I had Rodgers and Hammerstein!"

Strewing across the stage a series of weathered-looking LP sleeves, he hopscotches his way through a few decades of Broadway history, illuminating with impish wit the progressive messages he finds embedded in each show. " 'Fiddler on the Roof,' '' he now sees, "is all about gay marriage.'' It taught him to "disobey my parents and marry for love even if it challenges traditions taboos.'' " '1776,' '' he has come to realize, "taught me that America was founded by merchant-capitalist hypocrites who dared to write about human freedom while most of them owned human slaves!'' " 'South Pacific' ?'' It "showed me you could fight bigotry while being surrounded by hunky, naked sailors and drag queens.''

Mr. Miller eventually diverges from this amusing pageant mixing personal history and showbiz lore to discuss more immediate concerns. The show's title has a double meaning. As a collective pronoun, here it refers to gay men and women, but append a pair of periods, and those same two letters denote the country that Mr. Miller defines as their persistent oppressor. This evening's trip down memory lane was occasioned by Mr. Miller's impending exile from the United States; his partner is not a citizen, and his visa is running out. "Here in America gay couples have not one single federal right respecting our relationships,'' he says, and "since Alistair is from Australia and we can't get married so we could get Alistair a green card and stay together in the U.S., we have to leave.''

Although heartfelt and filled with acerbic, pointed commentary on the gaping contradictions he sees between current United States political policy and the great American ideals he finds enshrined in both the Constitution and the best of Broadway, these segments are less engaging than the more colorful, idiosyncratic recollections of Mr. Miller's sentimental and sexual education through his precocious affection for theater. Other digressions, including a segment on the Vietnam War that makes the predictable connections with the ongoing conflict in Iraq, are also deflating after the fun that has come before. And surely Mr. Miller is aware that gags about National Geographic magazine's function as a stimulant for erotica-deprived teens are hardly fresh.

It's when he is recalling those heady years when he and a friend had to share a set of "coconut-shell'' stereo headphones to listen to a contraband cast album of "Hair,'' for instance, that the show is most winning. ("I wasn't sure what sodomy was exactly,'' he relates with mock-earnestness, "but I knew it was for me.'') As a rallying cry for gay rights, "Us'' is a little rote and perfunctory, but it contains a sweet-spirited, honest and seriously funny commentary on the power of popular art to shape people's moral, social and sexual development.

And Mr. Miller is, as always, a frisky and charismatic performer. Longtime fans will also be happy to hear that even as he has embraced one stereotype, he has not forsaken another. Performance artists, as you might have heard, were once known for their tendency to disrobe onstage. This can, on occasion, be distressing, particularly if they are co-starring with, say, a jar of mayonnaise or some other messy foodstuff.

Not to worry: Mr. Miller performs entirely without condiments. And his concluding striptease doubles as an endearing joke at his own expense. Accompanied as it is by a series of incantatory exclamations - "I have always been a stripper!" - it is an unabashed admission of his predilection for literal as well as emotional self-exposure. After all, even serious artists gotta get a gimmick, as the song says.

Written and performed by Tim Miller. Presented by
Performance Space 122. At 150 First Avenue, at Ninth Street, East Village.

Date: Sun, 22 Aug 2004 11:59:07 -0400
From: BILL DOSCHER crysbyl@usa.net


Bill Doscher

(The opinions expressed below are solely those of the author and in no way reflect those of TheatreZone)

Take the variety and pace of the Boston Theatre Marathon, the changing weather of a New England summer, and the frenzied population of the Esplanade on July 4th and you’ll have just a fraction of the experience of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Last fall, after completing a run of Jeff Goode’s ANGER BOX for TheatreZone (www.theatrezone.org), one cast member blithely mentioned that the show could “easily” travel to the annual fringe festival in Scotland. Eight months of research, brainstorming, and fund-raising (who can forget the Men in Kilts campaign?) later, we set foot in Edinburgh and proclaimed our “anger” for ten glorious days.

What follows is my brief observations regarding the Festival, TheatreZone’s participation, and the twenty (out of literally thousands) productions I experienced.

The Festival houses many venues spread throughout the city which, in turn, host a number of playing spaces: some full-sale theatres, a few “hole-in-the-wall” locations, and even a large elevator (or “lift”) – Our particular space ( Sweet on the Royal Mile) was a refurbished conference room seating a raked audience of fifty (think the Leland Center with softer seats) in The Radisson Hotel on High Street (so named because it runs perpendicular with the numerous bridges overlooking the central city), also known as the Royal Mile which runs between Edinburgh and Holyrood Castles. During the day and late into the night, this area was a hotbed of activity with thousands of tourists, residents, and performers competing for attention. Although centrally located, this particular venue seemed lacking in press promotion and notoriety, compared to other spaces I encountered.

Despite this lack, our production of ANGER BOX certainly seemed worthwhile. Although we never played to a full house, we never had an audience of less than ten (two of the other productions I attended had less than five), gathered fair to outstanding reviews in the local press: “ANGER BOX does to religion what XXX does to sex … and showcases some of the finest actors … at the festival”, and generated thoughtful controversy. If nothing else, we certainly made our mark on the crowded streets, as our colorful assemblage of angry Americans, Satan sluts, Pope-infatuated virgins and Santa Claus commanded attention.

On with the shows; as always, one man’s opinions:

DEAD MAN’S SPERM : the Fringe listing read “Cyborgs and Madwomen. Prostitutes and Cannibals. A voyage through modern insanity expressing fragmented female identity in the 21st century”. ….. so much for false advertising – This was a very poor man’s “Sex in the City” as three grad students discussed men, etc. over a bottle of wine, breaking out at various moments for supposedly meaningful monologues on drugs, sex and sanity. My companion found the writing “interesting”; I spent my time surveying the venue itself, a small bar on top of another bar. “You pays your money, you takes your chances….”

ROBBER BRIDEGROOM: Never having seen the show, I looked forward to this bluegrass musical. Although a high school production and saddled with a weak leading man, it proved competent and entertaining.

GRAPES OF WRATH: Again, a youngish cast comprised of college students which lost some gravity in the characters of Ma and Pa Joad; a strong script and handsome production values, as well as live Woody Guthrie music, solidified the production. This was one of the few shows seen in a real live theatre.

BLACK COCKTAIL: My first “one-man” show of the week, this somewhat fascinating “reader’s theatre” of Jonathan Carroll’s novella; this author is apparently a cult figure in Europe and actor Ben Moore’s storytelling prompts me to further investigate his work. The inclusion of two small television screens showing supposedly relevant background scenes did little to enhance the experience.

THE STRANGE CASE OF DR. JEKYLL & MR. HYDE: A surprisingly well-done treatment of the classic story, physically told and acted by two earnestly-athletic performers (one of who penned the adaptation and directed) accompanied by live background music and sound effects. My companion and I felt this was one of the highlights of the week, a judgement not shared by many of our TheatreZone partners. ( as I said: “one man’s opinion.)

THE TIGER LILLIES – PUNCH AND JUDY: One of two “high-tech” productions seen; taking place in a movie multiplex theatre, this “operetta” depicting the life of Punch was performed by a three- man (bass, drums, and lead singer on piano, accordion, sitar, etc.) combo and utilized live-action, film, and life-size blow-up puppets. You hadda be there!

THE REAL THING; Tom Stoppard: Again, a college cast a bit too young for some of the life experiences manifested in Stoppard’s script; and a case where a stage area might be too small for the emotions and situations involved – all that being said, though, well done for the most part.

THE CRIMSON CORSET: A two-character treatise on early 20th century suppression and suffrage; I gave the actresses credit for surviving the material – my companions (both female) kicked them both off the island.

SUB: “The most erotic play you’ll see this year” the circular promises – what we get is a one woman monologue (written by a male) on her “descent” and acceptance of a submissive lifestyle – interesting in that this “play” and “The Crimson Corset” played in the same space in successive time slots.

( I must mention that, in terms of eroticism, the prize seems to go to a spectacle called XXX which was a multi-media adaptation of DeSade’s “Philosophy in the Bedroom”; almost universally panned by the local press, it rivaled Christian Slater’s chicken pox and the resultant postponement of “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” in terms of publicity.)

THE DUCHESS OF MALFI; John Webster – One of my personal favorites in terms of Jacobean revenge plays, this production was not really well served in its’ mix of whiteface, character (both role and gender) switching, and puppetry – Companions, not knowing the plot, were terribly confused.

( Again, a digression – as I did my street-marketing bit in my Santa suit mid week, I encountered an actor portraying Christ carrying his cross – Point/CounterPoint indeed!!)

BETWEEN THE QUIET POLES: Take the Faust legend; make Faustus a talented but creatively-stifled rock star, make Mephistopheles a quack “brain-surgeon”, …… you get the gist – Companion left within the first five minutes; I’m known for my masochism.

HANDBAG; Mark Ravenhill: Best known for “Shopping and Fucking”, Ravenhill’s time-traveling exploration of love, commitment, addiction and “Lady Bracknell” was one of the best-acted pieces seen – I wouldn’t mind seeing one of the braver theater troupes (TheatreZone, Zeitgeist) tackling this material.

THE CITY CLUB: Boogie-Woogie musical set in a site-specific night club; I at first wondered why the seemingly competent actors were rushing through their lines until I realized they were quickly discarding the insipid script to get to the next musical number (all of which were great!)

FRANKENSTEIN: I had been warned that this “Masterpiece Theatre” version of the classic tale was to be avoided but when have I ever taken good advice? – Perhaps it was the lateness of the hour (starting at midnite); perhaps it was the inaudible “acting” of the lead; perhaps it was the inexplicable tattoo on the Creature – I stuck it out for twenty minutes before escaping into the rowdy streets - As one of our company said: “have a pint and move on!”

HOW TO ACT AROUND COPS; Logan Brown/Matthew Benjamin: This five character thriller was awarded “Best of the Fringe” for the first week and rightly so: a taut, comic suspense play well written and acted; another good candidate for the Boston “fringe” theatres and “PG” enough for Hovey and the like.

GONE; Glyn Cannon: updated version of “Antigone” complete with multi-media and spin doctors; better than it sounds.

THE KEY: …. And I thought FRANKENSTEIN was going to be the low point of the week – this embarrassing “travelogue” from Argentina was poorly acted, poorly performed, poorly written – My Argentinean companion almost stormed the stage in protest.

HEDWIG AND THE ANGRY INCH: Thankfully, this superlative production (in a church theatre, no less) washed the above disaster from my mind – to be replaced by a midnite masterpiece of music and spectacle.

CATCHING DUST: An innovative “physical-theatre” piece with six “twenty-somethings” acting their age and exploring various relationships – although much more active and physical than “The Real Thing” (which shared the same venue space), this entertaining hour seemed to better fit it’s environment.

DARK ANGELS: Unfortunately, the last production seen at the Fringe; or, “half-seen” as this sorry sub-Brittany “musical” with teenagers “acting” all Melrose Place made me, once again, seek the fresh air and crowded streets.

Of course, there were literally thousands of productions left unseen, as well as numerous cabaret acts and stand-up comics, poets and dancers – Exhaustive, exhilarating, intense and incredible, the Edinburgh Fringe Festival was well worth the effort and expense. For further information: http://www.edfringe.com.

From: DramaBear@aol.com
Date: 2004/08/03 Tue AM 12:40:07 EDT

Larry -

I may live to regret this.

Historically, at least in the last fifty or so years, Sir John( Ages of Man), Helen Hayes and Maurice Evans (Program for two Players), Simon Callow (The Sonnets), Sir Ian(Acting Shakespeare), Claire Bloom (Shakespeare's Women [I think]), and probably a lot I can't pull up from the files, have tried and succeeded with greater or lesser success. I've loved all that I've seen, but then, who[sic] many people own a DVD of Efram Zimbalist Jr. as Prospero and the Evans-Anderson Macbeth? I also have a nifty VHS of Richard II with Jay Robinson as the gardner, and, somewhere, Mary Ann Faithful playing Ophelia. I remain the proverbial choir one should not preach at. Or, in the bestest Englsih I can do, I remain the proverbial choir at whom one should not preach. At.

Remaining fluid and yet adhering to a theme is the challenge of all cabaret sort of things. There is a show called "Shakespeare Cabaret" which I own on CD but, alas, have not listened to yet. Cleo Lane has a wonderful doube CD called "Wordsong", I think, which I'm pretty sure I've played for you, consisting of the Bard's words set to music. The Bard's comedies, ripped off from the Greek's Comedy --- Old Comedy, I think it's called, the bawdy kind --- are the basis for what we call "Musical Theatre." There are people who would argue with me here, but they are stupid. In a round about sort of way, musical theatre proceeded out of the church, like WS, with Purcell and Mozart, meandered through a couple of centuries, then hit Joey Strauss, Joe Verdi, and Jack Puccini, picked up the lyricist again with Gilbert and Sullivan, filtered through Berlin and Kern, added Gershwin, and Rogers, mixed with wordsmiths like Cole Porter and Lorenz Hart, and came to a resounding paragon with Sondheim's "A Little Night Music", which Shakespeare would have written had he been horny. But I digress...

The Form:
As in the old vaudeville form, there is a frame on a tripod at the side of the stage, with the inifinite variety of the spelling of Shake-Spear's name spelled out on cards, or, perhaps, black chalkboards. As the artistes enter, they sign in. As well as actors, singers and musicians should be encouraged to swell the scenes, to sing between the acts, so to speak. In effect, like the oh-so-glamorous "intimate" stage musical reviews that replaced Zigfield after the depression hit, when enormous tableaus and chorus numbers had to be severely reduced. Half dozen musicians, half dozen performers. Casual attire. The Frame could well be the Porter Brush up your Shakespeare. The theme is the genius of you know who.

Yes Monday Nights. Yes ever changing (wish I could come up with a good quote). However, I think Boston Center for the Arts is the better best location.

well, I've done an honest night's work. I shall post this, and call you.


From: Naeemah A. White-Peppers
Via SnailMail
To: Will Stackman
COPY TO: Larry Stark
14 June, '04

Mr. Stackman

In my few years as a Boston actress, I have received a great deal of praise and criticism from the theatre community. Much of it has been flattering, some helpful, and some painful. The element that has remained constant through the years is that I truly believe (with few exceptions) that I have been evaluated based on my individual nightly performances. One exception that gives me pause --- show after show --- is your criticism. In your role as a Boston theatre critic, I find that you have consistently taken local theatre companies to task for casting decisions that did not involve White actors. Each time I read a Will Stackman review, I'm struck by the fact that your response to the race of the actors offers the implication of significance. I fear that you seek some specific, "race-defined" detail in any character played by a minority; and that the quest for this detail is merely support for some stereotype of that race. While I will not speak for others, I would like to offer my own response.

In your most recent "review" of Zeitgeist Stage Company's "Popcorn" [NOTE: Reproduced below] you wrote: "Naeemah A. White-Peppers hasn't found a way to make being African-American add anything to the piece." I ask you to consider that having an African-American actress play the role of Brooke was perhaps not meant as a political statement.

In your review of "The Credeaux Canvas," you took special pains to note of my casting as Amelia, "Here she's playing a part not originally written for an African-American." In fact, the published edition of "The Credeaux Canvas" does not specify any race or national origin for any of the characters, leaving each production to develop a composite cast reflective of contemporary society.

Going back further to our 2002 presentation of Suzan-Lori Parks' "In The Blood," you observed that, "The major female characters, Hester - La Negrita, played by Ramona L. Alexander and Amiga Gringa, played by Naeemah White-Peppers, appear by their names to be Hispanic, yet neither they or any of the other characters give the slightest indication that this microcosm is peopled by other than urban Americans." Ms. Parks wrote the play as an inner-city riff on "The Scarlet Letter," reflecting today's multi-culturalism, where black skinned Hispanics are part of the diverse landscape. You went on to write about the cast of "In The Blood" that, "On the whole this ensemble is successful, though it might be interesting to see how the play would fare if done by six White actors." Ms. Parks is an African-American playwright who focuses on the Black experience in her plays, and "In The Blood" is specific about requiring an ethnic cast. Suggesting it be done with Caucasian actors is akin to recommending White versions of of :A Raisin in The Sun" or "Fences". Each of these works --- "In The Blood" included --- is intended to reflect a perspective on the Black experience by the respective Black playwrights.

The casting of African-American actors in roles outside of those written with race in mind should not be seen as inappropriate or questionable --- but as recognition of the fact thatpeople pf color exist in all walks of life. We no longer live in a society where minorities are purely relegated to work in service careers and live in ghetto communities/ One would not be surprised to find a Black policeman, attorney, stockbroker, journalist, professor, dancer, or even centerfold model. Recognizing the existence of minorities in everyday life, one has to accept the representation on the stage and screen.

Furthermore, and perhaps significantly more difficult, one must acknowledge that the existence of minorities in any place in this society is valid based on desire, hard work and merit. It is not because of affirmative action, or the dream of diversity in the arts. It is because of training, studying, and fighting for the right/privilege/honor to hold this place that was desired by so many other performers, White and minority.

The Boston theater community is filled with a wealth of talent that represents the full view of the city. We also happen to be lucky enough to have trheatre companies that are courageous enough to represent our city from every angle. The Zeitgeist Stage Company mission statement says, "We look to establish a creative environment allowing theatre artists to demonstrate their talents through timely and relevant productions facilitating a connection with our audience and linkage to the community in general." This means that you will see people of color, women, gay people, children, and many others on the stage. A link to the community in general requires representation of the community so that each person will see his/her face in the characters.

In response to your statement that I haven't "found a way to make being African-American add anything to the piece," I propose that my existence is enough. It is not necessary for me to make a loud, political, stereotypically ethnic statement to announce myself. You see me. My challenge is to continue to exist until you stop noticing me, and learn to accept mu presence as the norm.

I challenge you --- the next time you see an actor in a "non-traditional" role --- to watch the play, see ther characters, and enjoy the performance. Forget that the last time you saw her, she was Othello, or Satan, or Ophelia; that in her real life, she's a man, or gay, or Black. I challenge you to forget the actor, because when you allow us to do our job, the experience can be magical.

Naeemah A. White-Peppers

From: "will stackman" profwlll@yahoo.com
Subject: Quicktake - "POPCORN" by Ben Elton
Date: Thur, May 20 11:15 PM
Quicktake on POPCORN

The satirical target(s) in Ben Elton's "Popcorn" are no more hard to shoot than fish in a barrel, but that should be part of the fun in this black farce, which depends on several well-setup shootings. That there's not more fun, though former TV writer Elton does know how to get quick laughs, is due to a rather realistic production of this almost surreal British take on Hollywood excess and Oliver Stone's "Natural Born Killers" in particular.
There's an aura of sit-com about it.
Zeitgeist has once again found a script which displays social malfunction and mistakes that act for relevant criticism. The play in fact participates in the very phenomenon it castigates, which sends very mixed signals to its audience. The cast is competent and sometimes brilliant, with Susan Gross just barely edging out her partner in crime, Jesse Soursourian, for top honors. Stephen Epstein's Hollywood director is believably obsessive, while Jennifer Huth and Caryn Andrea Lindsey are just a bit too commonplace as his soon-to-be ex and their teenage daughter, even in their wardrobe. Naeemah A. White Peppers, in her last Zeitgeist role for a while, doesn't fit the part of a Playboy centerfold/now actress and hasn't found a way to make being African-American add anything to the piece. George Saulnier III, who is capable of being more outrageous is too laid-back as the producer. The show seems more like an episode from a soap opera than biting social commentary; it's satire is old-hat, though at least it's not boring.
"POPCORN" by Ben Elton,May 14 - June 5
Zeitgeist Stage Co. at BCA Black Box
539 Tremont, South End, (617) 426 -ARTS Zeitgeist Stage Company

From: Robert Bettencourt rob_bett@yahoo.com
Date: 2004/06/21 Mon PM 11:50:34 EDT
Subject: My Two Cents

Dear Larry,
I wanted to first of all congratulate you on starting up the journal "The Week That Was" again. I always look forward to reading it and have missed it recently. I am always intrigued by what others are doing in the area.
I also wanted to answer your questions pertaining to Equity actors in Boston. Although it seems that every time I speak truthfully about The Boston Theater scene nobody wants to listen. I do agree with you that if Equity actors work hard to obtain their cards then Equity should guarantee them work regardless of where they leave. The reality is that Equity most likely does not have the resources to make that guarantee. Also each metropolitan city is different which means the ratio of Equity houses to non-Equity houses is also different. The fact is that out of the "ninety or more acting spaces" in Boston most of them are non-Equity and only a handful are Equity.
Boston has always been considered, in my opinion as a non-Equity theatre town. Actors who do live in the city and make their acting career here need to do commercials, industrials and film work in order to survive. The Equity work that is here usually will go to an Equity actor from New York, not to one with a Massachusetts address. I cannot tell you how many times I have heard from acting friends how they only started getting Equity work in Boston once they moved to New York.
I think that you should e-mail your sermon to every Artistic Director of every Equity house in the Boston Metro area. They are the ones with the power to cast Boston area Equity actors. I read an article from the Tab last year where the Artistic Director of the North Shore Musical Theatre (whose name escapes me at the moment) said that he would cast an Equity actor from New York rather then an Equity actor from Boston. He is of the opinion that if an actor is in New York then they are serious about their craft, I think this point of view is absurd.
Personally I think that the Massachusetts Cultural Council should demand Boston area Equity houses to maintain a certain quota of Boston area actors when casting their shows, if they want to receive grant money from Massachusetts. I feel sick thinking that Massachusetts grant money is going to pay for New York actors to come here and perform when there are hundreds of Boston actors just itching to perform.
But that is another story. I will be starting to teach in July at the Actor's Workshop. If a student came to me and said that they had just received their Equity card and wanted to know what they should do. I would tell them to pack their bags and move to their Chicago or New York. I think having to say that is a shame. Anyway that is just my opinion.

From: "Caroline Ellis" clbellis@earthlink.net
Subject: HBS research on theater ticket sales and similar sales
Date: Fri, 4 Jun 2004 05:36:25 -0400

Considering your efforts to make Boston theater an ever greater success ...
I thought part of an article in the June 3, 2004, Wall St. Journal might be of interest. It seems a professor at Harvard Business School has done research with implications for theaters that focus on selling season subscriptions. Prof. John Gourville's main research is to find whether health clubs do better getting people to sign up every year (a critical metric) if they sell full-year memberships or one-month memberships (the latter works best). The key thing is how many sessions people miss, because that effects whether they will join again. Here's what the article says about plays:

"A subscriber who skips several plays is less likely to subscribe again. So promoting season tickets isn't always wise. A few years ago, Mr. Gourville persuaded a summer Shakespeare festival to keep track of 923 transactions in which 6,070 tickets were sold -- for one, two, three or all four plays. Just 0.6% who bought a ticket for a single play failed to show. But 2.8% of those who were choosy enough to pick just two of the four plays failed to attend the first one; so did 7.8% of those who picked three plays."

Anyway the research seems to indicate that the sacred cow of season subscriptions is not sustainable. I guess that means theaters might do better putting their resources into promoting single shows. (The promotion of "Three Penny Opera" at the New Rep this year comes to mind.) It's interesting. I know a lot of people would disagree with this.


From: ZeitgeistStage@aol.com Date: Wed, 28 Apr 2004 11:23:34 -0400
Larry -
Thought you and others might be interested in this article. Very interesting perspective on what heatre can do for a city and what a city can for theatre. (And, no, I have not taken on yet another of as mayor of Toronto, it's another David Miller.) Maybe we could get Mayor Daley to conference call with Mayor Menino on the value theatre and culture bring to cities such as Chicago & Boston.
David Miller
Zeitgeist Stage Co

From: "Kim Carrell" cyrano3112@hotmail.com
Subject: Mere Opinions - yes, plural
Date: Fri, 16 Apr 2004 11:50:07 -0400

Dear Larry -
While I have a spare moment, I'd like to add my two cents (okay...more like a nickel's worth) to some recent Mere Opinion discussions. But this time coming from one of the warm bodies onstage.

I certainly understand Rob Bettencourt's frustration as he does have his own theater company. But I have to take issue with his assertion that Boston is not an "established organized theater community" - my primary example being StageSource. I lived and worked in New York for several years and I can assure you that NOTHING resembling StageSource could exist there. The New York theater "community" is far too busy looking out for number one to nurture itself and produce such an organization. One of the reasons I am managing to make my living in Boston as an actor is because of the networking possibilities available through StageSource - through their message boards and links pages, the hotline, the annual auditions, even the "Party" and the member socials. Those are tremendous opportunities and we need to use them to the fullest. Jeff Poulos and his staff just plain ROCK. (No, I don't work for him). The Boston theater scene is a fantastic one and I am honored to be part of it. In my not-quite two years here I have been able to work more regularly than I did in New York - AND in quality shows of which I am deeply proud. Can the Boston scene improve? Of course it can. But I can't agree that it's "lacking" - although as I said, I'm not coming from the standpoint of artistic director of a small company. I admit one small company with whom I've worked has folded in the meantime. But rather than bemoaning the "lack of support" perhaps they need to now serve as an object lesson in not making the same mistakes.

Regarding "Sin - A Cardinal Deposed"...indeed, Ronan Noone got there first. His story wasn't "ripped from the headlines", true. But that only made "Lepers" more powerfully prophetic. I personally am wary of headline-rippers. I appeared in a play in New York months after the Amadou Diallo killing. That play involved 4 cops who had shot an unarmed African immigrant. The play was rushed into production under-written (probably the talkiest, most un-actable script I've ever seen)and under-rehearsed and was rightly savaged by critics. Trying to pounce on timely headlines isn't neccesarily a good thing. Maybe one lesson here for you critic-type folk is that you really do need to pay some attention to the fall productions written by grad students at Boston Playwrights. How many of you saw "Lepers" there? Or did you not see it until the Sugan production? By the same token, I remember seeing no reviews at all of Molly Smith Metzler's "Training Wisteria" one year after BPT's production of "Lepers". Too bad - since Molly's play actually won more Kennedy Center awards than "Lepers". (No offense, Ronan). BPT and Kate Snodgrass are more than just "Mother Teresa" to the Boston theater scene - they are producing some damn good playwrights. Ronan, Molly, John Kuntz, Melinda Lopez...and I'm just scratching the surface. Who knows who their next killer playwright will be? Well, the Boston critics might - if you pay attention to the grad student plays.

Mr. Stackman, regarding "Whither the Bard?" I noticed a glaring omission. Perhaps you're not aware of the New England Shakespeare Festival - but you should be. The company has been in existance for 10 years and tours a production throughout New England in late July and August. Granted, we don't perform in metro Boston - one might have to travel to Ipswich to see us. But for anyone interested in Shakespeare without layers of "concept", emphasis on text and Elizabethan performance practice - yes, that means prompter, cue-scripts and the whole nine yards - it's more than worth the trip. In 2001 the company was dubbed "Hip Shakespeare" by the Globe, and the Portland Phoenix called it "Rompin' Stompin' Shakespeare Action". The company is growing and gaining faithful audiences who return year after year. To my knowledge we are now the only company in the world that always performs using the "unrehearsed cue-script" approach - and that approach opened up new worlds for me as an actor. Any true Shakespeare lover owes it to themselves to see a New England Shakespeare Festival production. Come and see "Richard III" this summer.

All my ramblings can be summed up this way - our Boston theater scene is not perfect. Show me one that is. But Boston's is so very rich, and we should remember that. Believe me when I say that I am far happier than I was in New York, and I count myself very lucky to be a Boston theater artist.
Thanks, Larry.
Kim H. Carrell
Actor/Fight Director
New England Shakespeare Festival

Further discussion
[from Will Stackman]

I could quote Emerson, but though better of it. I was actually afraid my short list was too long; my intention was not to contradict Art but to respond to an air of gloom and despair by citing some examples of "the good stuff" and limiting myself to this calendar year. I probably should have noted that all three new political plays done at BPT this fall had could be taken as directly relating to the current national political scene. Quite simply, there Has been a slow but encouraging renaissance in Boston Theatre over the last decade at least. And if getting an IRNE nomination for his script wasn't enough for Art, because people didn't flock to see it in the claustrophobic Leland, tough cookies. But let me go on, it seems to be the style in this discussion.

Ronan's play was indeed not ignored locally, though perhaps the owners of the Globe might have seen fit to notice it along with all the news that's fit to print. And a bit more research, as I tried to suggest, might have pointed out how and why Michael Murphy came to do "Sin" at Bailiwick in Chicago, a city with a substantial Catholic population and its own share of the current scandal. (Bill Marx still hasn't updated his discussion.) Jack Neary's approach in "Beyond Belief", which was you'll remember presented here at the Lyric, might prove to be the more useful. Let's see how his recent rewrite plays in Springfield later this season, and whether the show gets back to Boston again.

And let's see what big issues come up in this year's Theatre Marathon, overseen by BPT. There've been a few in the past. There's no evidence, however, that local audiences anywhere are that attracted to scripts "ripped from the headlines." If anything, the stalls tend to carp about details that aren't quite accurate and ignore larger implications. The Athenians decided back at the beginning of it all that tragedy mustn't be written about events in living memory or involve people still alive. Serious drama may indeed require serious reflection, some sort of aesthetic distance. As perhaps Sophocles did when he wrote the Philoctetes to respond to the expeditionary invasion of Syracuse which was the root cause of Athens' fall. Perhaps it's no accident that Hovey's "G.R.Point" took IRNE awards this year or that Art Devine has "9Ball" running at the Tremont. Vietnam was just long enough ago that lessons for today can be drawn. Check out the range of response to the content of "The Sweepers" set in the North End just before VJ Day as well.

Of course, Aristophanic comedy was allowed to be totally current; Socrates reportedly stood up at the performance of The Clouds so the crowd could see how well the mask on the lead actor had parodied him. The only one of Art's suggestions with real comic potential concerns Jane Swift, and that should probably be Act Three of a farce beginning with Bill Weld, followed by Cellucci's exile to Canada.

If "Sin" had been produced here, it would have gotten its 15 minutes in the National Media. Whether that would have benefited the local theatre scene is moot. We'll have to see whether the show provides catharsis for anyone when and if it gets here. It's more likely that one of our local women playwright's will go after the current Archbishop and his compatriots first.

As for "...121st St." to be specific, Larry's suggestion to Guirgis that he try out a show here, much as Murphy is doing in Chicago, was meant as much to provoke discussion as gild any New York lily. The real point is that playwrights have to be more forthcoming about demanding that local producers consider their work, or as Art has done, do it yourself. Guirgis after all writes plays first and foremost for the company he's associated with in New York, aka his friends. But the rest of the problem is to keep on creating the Boston scene.

Check out the history of Zak's Bailiwick Repertory operation for an idea of what that might take. The most interesting feature of their programing is that they do in fact run shows in repertory, so that a play has time to build an audience. What that would take here is for several groups producing at the BCA (for example) to get together and schedule shows that could be perform alternately in the same space for a longer period of time. It would be a design challenge, actors would have to make longer commitments, but anything's possible.

What we probably don't need is another quarter century of failed shoestring projects. One lesson groups have learned in Boston is to be wary of involvement in real estate. Wish Nora and Underground the best for their Central Square venture. At least it's already a destination. Despite Rob Bettencourt's plaintive cries, there is a theatre community here (or possibly several overlapping communities) which need to keep on doing what they're doing, only doing it smarter and better.

The amount of cooperation has grown over the years, through TAMA, through practical relationships at the BCA, through performers migrating from one venue to the next. That's no reason for complacency, but every reason to join in by keeping up, not by complaining about being left behind. That means choosing or writing plays someone might want to see, doing all the boring public relations work well beforehand, finding financial support in new and creative ways. And stop insulting the increasing number of artists who have built performing and writing careers here by working at it, or those who found opportunity elsewhere, and may just be back. Steppenwolf in Chicago wouldn't have the creative freedom they enjoy if John Malkovitch and Gary Sinese hadn't gone to Hollywood and sent money back to the theatre they started, and come back to boost its fortunes from time to time.

Moreover, don't waste time raving about PR generated new play initiatives. The Huntington choose four local fellows awfully quickly after Jon Baitz didn't come through with his commission. Noone was already a winner for BU; Kuntz and Lopez, besides acting for the company, are already established talents, and Sinan is no new face either. It's certainly heartening that their talents got recognized, but it'll be the followthrough that counts. What HTC put on were staged readings which groups like the Platform have been doing for more than a quarter of a century, in the past with some of the best performers in town. Late breaking news that Lopez's play will get a world premiere next fall in one of the new BCA theatres is real progress. People should realize that this is her third major work, and that her educational show ?How Do You Spell Hope?? about Fredrick Douhlass and the importance of reading has been seen by hundreds of children for the last two years. The Phoenix which just gave two pages to Rhombus and Joe Byers, a spinoff from Centastage's Write Now. Will they do the same for the Theatre Marathon (which will be moving to the BCA next year and being held in May. This probably means each piece will only be done once); for Industrial's Soapbox Derby which starts this Friday, April 16; for Playwrights' Platform's annual festival, BTW's Unbound readings, or for the Hovey's Summer Shorts, which moves this year to Turtle Lane, etc. etc and so forth. Will Theatre Cooperative's premiere of the play they commissioned from Vlad Zevilinsky as the final offering of their season, after presenting three workshop stagings of works in progress of plays set locally, get decent attention? Nobody's holding their breath.

It's not a matter of critic's merely seeing the work, as suggesting that more and better should be done, though the old dictuum "..as long as they spell your name right!" has some validity Why, for example, is the Globe running A.P. puff pieces from New York ? Could the fact that the paper are owned by the Times which profits from advertising purchased by these shows? But the Arts editor of the Weekly Dig has become an IRNE reviewer; has everyone sent him their releases? How many small theatres have made an effort to go after local college papers? At least there's no one writing in Boston today who's openly antagonistic to small theatre in general, as in the past. Just major reviewers who can't tell the front of a row house from the back, or who think working class women shouldn't be played by goodlooking actresses.

Ultimately economics has a lot to do with it. Producers take more of a risk when they put on new work of any sort. The fact that we've had a greater mix of new and old recently is a source of cautious optimism. Despite doom-sayers, things might actually be getting better, though tighter budgets, and union considerations might mean that fewer people find sufficient work. Actors really like to do new work, but many of them also need to get paid for what they do. If you really believe in the value of your work, be prepared to pay people to help you do it.
TTFN, Will Stackman

From: "Arthur Hennessey" norfolk1a@hotmail.com
Cc: profwlll@yahoo.com Subject: Follow up on my Mere Opinion

Hi Larry,
In response to Will Stackman, I thought I would just send a follow up to my Mere Opinion.

First, a quote...
"Local theatre hasn't risen to the occasion, and probably won't. The Lysistrata reading--unfortunately held on the same night as the IRNE Awards-- was underattended earlier this month. Even Improv troupes seem to be shying away from political commentary. Maybe ISebastiani, the Commedia group which has been lurking in the background for the last decade, will find a way to work something into their upcoming shows. Their winter effort was a successful if uneven rendering of a potentially feminist scenario, but these traditionalists will probably stay mired in the 16th Century. Other's won't have the same historical excuse." - Will Stackman, Aisle Say 2003

It was a little strange to me that Mr. Stackman did not find any agreement with me, since he is partly one of the reasons I wrote my statement... but more on that later.

Please read my Mere Opinion again and see that I went out of my way to acknowledge that we have an extreme amount of talent in this town. I see the plays you are talking about, Will. I know they are out there. I know some of the playwrights. In fact, I am one of the playwrights. Like Dan Millstein and William Donnely, I am also one of the producers. I also think Boston Playwrights Theatre and Kate Snodgrass are the equivalent of Mother Theresa in this town.

I did not "ignore" the the dozens of new plays that were done here. That would be like me stating that Mr. Stackman's response leaves out the fact that the Huntington Theatre Company has commissioned three local playwrights including John Kuntz and Melinda Lopez. Or how about the new Devenaugh Theatre at the Piano Factory with their Dragonfly Festival in which a whole batch of new plays receive semi-workshop like stagings. And don't forget Ryan Landry and the Gold Dust Orphans. All of these are positive things.

His response suggests that the major media outlets, including Bill Marx, are not seeing enough of small theatre. I wholeheartedly agree and I have said so on the Theatermirror before. More specifically, I also think that one of the things lacking in this town is an alternative paper that would cover the smaller theatre scene seriously. The Phoenix just can't seem to bring themselves to do it. In Seattle we had the Seattle Weekly and The Stranger, both equivalents of the Phoenix here. However those papers were not above seeing all of the small theatre they could. Once again, they don't have to like it all, (and if the Stranger didn't like it...look out,) in fact some of it is not always good. But at least the Weekly provided an alternative to the weirdly anti-theatre Living Arts sections of the Times and the Seattle Post Intelligencer.

The web revolution is helping. Though critics often slam Theatermirror, it is obvious that they read it. One of the most exciting things to happen to the New York Times Theatre Section is the addition of Reader's Reviews. Check it out. Maybe the Globe will ad something similar. Although, I hope that they police it enough to keep it from turning into the joke that Amazon's reader reviews section has become.

Please everybody, don't read my previous call to action as what's wrong with us. Read it as how can we can possibly improve here.

Few of the scripts Mr Stackman mentions address current events. Or maybe he thinks that people shouldn't attempt that. However, a look at his critical writings over the past year would suggest otherwise. More than a few times over the past year Will Stackman has lamented on his Weblog, "And Then I Saw' (http://profwill.blogspot.com/) and in his reviews in Aisle Say that theatre artists were not responding to the current political crisis or the war in Iraq. So here we have two very different critics....(Marx and Stackman,) each saying that they wish people would step up to the plate and tackle these issues. In fact, that was one of the reasons I was incited to write what I did.

Ronan Noone wrote that the Los Angeles Times mentioned "Lepers" as originating in Boston. And that is an incredible step in the right direction. But the media coverage around "Sin," would be the equivalent of the New York Times having covered the original Boston Playwrights Theatre production of the play. I do not remember that happening, but if it did, please correct me.

We are talking about a town in which the two anchor theatres, and the Boston Playwright's theatre would shrivel up and blow away without their university endowments and university owned theatre properties. We are also talking about a town where Speakeasy, Lyric, Sugan and others went into an outright state of panic when Equity came calling with demands that they start paying up about a year ago. Statements were made to the press about them not being able to continue.

Caroline Ellis seems to know what I am talking about in her response.
But, hey, if people think things are just groovy, then maybe I have to reexamine my thinking.
Because, after all, these are my mere opinions.

From: "Caroline Ellis" clbellis@earthlink.net
Subject: mere opinions; Boston Theater scene
Date: Wed, 7 Apr 2004 20:15:37 -0400

I think a lot of what is wrong with the Boston Theater scene is how expensive it is to live here, to rent space, to park, to have dinner -- and how spread out everything is. My favorite theater scene is Minneapolis/St.Paul, and I do *not* mean the Guthrie. There were many small professional theaters doing great work in all kinds of weird spaces when I lived there (1997-2000). One thing I noticed: There was almost no community theater in the region. All the theater energy went into small, shoestring, professional operations in weird, intimate little spaces. Theater-lovers heaven.

In Boston, community theater is vibrant, and most community theaters have buildings and parking. Many are near public transportation, too. What if some kind of partnership could be arranged, with the more creative, small groups in the city putting on their cutting-edge material maybe once a year in the suburbs? (I don't mean that would be *all* they would do; just that the two gorups should mix sometimes.)

The reason I suggest this is that Boston theater needs suburbanites, but it is the world's biggest hassle to get into town, get lost, find parking, etc. So people who are not very savvy go to what they think are safe bets -- say, "Sly Fox." Who is to educate the potential theater supporter about what theater *might* be? Community theaters (not always but) in general do the safe bets, themselves. But once a year, they could invite Sugan or another adventurous group to use their space. If the effort bombed, they could try another group another year. I just feel that the theatrical efforts in the region are too dispersed.

From: "will stackman" profwlll@yahoo.com
Mere Opinion on local playwrighting
Date:Tues, April 6, 9:08 PM

Art Hennessey's comments on support for relevant local plays ignores the dozen or so scripts produced around Boston for far this calendar year. It's strange that he cites Bill Marx's WBUR comments on "Sin" without mentioning that most of the established local critics like our Bill generally ignored new work in Boston in the past unless there was something otherwise newsworthy about a production. Small theatre and new plays in Chicago, following the lead of Richard Christiansen over his forty years at the Trib, have had much more serious attention and critical support over the long run.
???? Things have gotten better around here in the last few years, but with major news outlets controlled by out-of-town owners, there's not much hope for consistent improvement. So it's not surprising that a "Boston" play, which was only scheduled for a limited workshop got a longer run in Chicago when the show attracted interest. Had author Michael Murphy approached any one of several developmental playwright friendly operations here, he might have had the same luck . In fact, he seems to have chosen Chicago specifically to avoid possible sensationalism before the script was really ready. Fat chance! The current mystery is exactly why Wellesley College, which had agreed to host a limited run here in May, albeit in a much larger theatre, backed out so quickly. And why hasn't Bill commented on the situation, instead choosing to notice a revival of "Barrymore' in Rhode Island and pontificate about Saul Bellow.
????However, lack of high profile attention and support hasn't prevented a range of theatre companies and venues from supporting new plays by local playwrights. There've been about a dozen so far this calendar year. Boston Theatre Works at the Boston Playwright's Theatre put on Stephen Bogart's "Conspiracy of Memory" which they'd had a reading of last June. At the same venue, the Nora Theatre mounted R.L.Lane's self-directed "Van Gogh in Japan". Down at the BCA, T&A put on Nancy Pearson's fantasy autobiography "The Unemployable Livia Peacock" featuring the author, who works for New Hampshire Public Television, in the title role. Company One joined forces once again with Conrad Bishop and Elizabeth Fuller of NPR to create "Lost City". Rough & Tumble adapted Bill Donnelly's screen play "Backwater" into another of their inimitable pieces. Over at Industrial in the Everett Old Library at Harvard, the company there, with Donnelly polishing their dialogue, created "Tycho & Kepler", an interesting history of science docudrama. Back at the BCA, Theatre Offensive just opened Letta Neely's "Last Rites", while Art Devine moved his Vietnam drama, "9 Ball" into the Tremont for an extended run. Over in Somerville, the Theatre Coop has run workshop productions of "Thanksgiving with Matt Damon", Bill Doncaster's "Take Me to the River, Virginia Cha," and is doing Jerry Bisantz' "Tit for Tat" this weekend. And out at the Stoneham Theatre, there's a large scale production of Quincy native John C. Picardi's "The Sweepers" set in the North End which had limited runs in small spaces in New York and Albany. About two thirds of these scripts have local relevance and identity; indeed some might have been better if references were more concrete.
???? But wait there's more. The sixth Annual Boston Theatre Marathon does 45 plays in 10 hours the day before the actual run. Emerson and BTU have reading of student work after spring break. Industrial has their Soap box Derby New Works Festival starting the middle of the month. The Super slam Finals of Slam boston's monthly program happens in May at BPT. As it has for more than a quarter of a century, Playwrights' Platform has its annual festival, this time at BPT in May. BTW has its "Unbound" reading there soon after. The Hovey Theatres Summer Shorts program is happening this year, not in Waltham, but at Turtle Lane in Newton, late June. And the Theatre Cooperative is running Vladimir Rozinsky "What Time is It?", which had a workshop weekend there in January 2003, for the entire month of May as the climax to their season.
????There's no denying that the bigger theatres could do better by local writers; the Huntington's made a tentative move in that direction. But new plays are finding audiences all over town, and should continue to do so. Cooperation from big media would help, but Boston theatre goers no longer seem as timid about coming out for new plays in odd venues by unknown local talent. We may still be stronger locally at beginning of the developmental process than in following through. However, the more playwrights and performers work to get new material on without waiting to be discovered by someone else, the more new plays we'll see. Writing a script is just the beginning of the playWrighting process.

Date: Mon, 05 Apr 2004 11:28:13 -0400
Subject: Response
From: ronan noone rlnoone@gis.net

Dear Larry,
Well, to join the soapbox of despair that is the Boston theatre scene, I am gladly going to offer my two cents. I wrote a play, one written from the imagination, as distinct from the synopsizing of court papers documenting a story on abuse, even if it is the rage in good old London. The Lepers of Baile Baiste was developed and produced at the Boston Playwrights Theatre before the scandal broke and went on to be produced in New Hampshire as the abuse scandal was breaking and won a national award in Washington, D.C. as the true depth of this crisis was coming to light.

Of course, it received the usual tepid response from Bill Marx who seems to always find an angle in castigation rather then encouragement. The fact that Sin A Cardinal Deposed was put on in Chicago should not be a indictment of Boston playwrights or another angle to be derisory towards the building of eight theatres and the mission statements of the companies that will occupy those theatres.

If Sugan Theater in Boston didn¹t have the COURAGE to take a chance on an unknown playwright we wouldn¹t have had the first play detailing abuse in Boston. If Boston Playwrights Theatre hadn't put their experience, resources and money behind the script it would never have been developed and if Boston audiences hadn¹t supported it they way they did, I would still be languishing in some playwrights desert. It is this foresight that many theatres have in this town that give many other playwrights the opportunity to write the play they want to write; not the play that others wished they had written so they can shout for bragging rights. Though that being said, after LEPERS' run at the Sugan Theatre, it was produced in Los Angeles and was recognized by The Los Angeles Times as originating in Boston. So what about them apples.

As Gideon Lester said, it is important that it gets done not who does it, because a play is not a sport or for that matter a bloodsport as some may think. Of course, there may be some who don¹t consider me a Boston playwright because I wasn¹t born here. Regardless, no matter where I am or where I write about, this town gave me the opportunity to write the play and plays I¹ve wanted to write, and accordingly The Lepers of Baile Baiste is a Boston play.
Ronan Noone

Date: Thu, 1 Apr 2004 19:54:12 -0800 (PST)
From: Robert Bettencourt rob_bett@yahoo.com
Subject: Mere Opinions Hey Larry,
I am writing this in response to Mr. Hennessey’s statement in the theater mirror yesterday. I agree with Mr. Hennessey. Boston should be the one with a new play about the church child abuse scandal considering if did happen right in our backyard. The problem is not that we don’t have talented people in Boston because we most certainly do. The problem is two fold as I see it. 1. Boston has a big chip on its shoulder that it needs to be better then or just as good as New York. Boston is not New York, never has been, never will be and until we get this chip off our shoulder and get over it, Boston will never have an organized theater community. 2. People treat Boston as a stop before going on to their career in New York no one talks about the future for Boston theater, that is because most people are here to bulk up their resume and then their off to New York or Chicago or LA. We need to change that. We need to get together as a community and talk about the future of theater in Boston and change it together. We shouldn’t be fawning all over New York playwrights to have them do their next premiere play here. That is unrealistic. We should be fawning over the local playwrights to have them write a show that can be premiered here in Boston. You’re right, Mr. Hennessey the Sugan Theater, Speakeasy Theater and Theater Offensive should have their own space.

So let’s do something about it. Let’s get together and talk about it, let’s put our heads together as a community and come up with solutions. Let’s talk about how we can all get involved to raise money so that at least one of these theater companies can have a space of their own. Having meetings with a panel of local theater professionals pontificating on how they do theater is not helping the community as a whole. I find the Boston theater community to be uninspiring to say the least. A community is more then a group of people who have a common interest. A community is the relationships and connections that those people have with each other and the city around them. Boston is just a city with a bunch of theaters. There are some random connections but there are no connections that connect everybody as a whole. There have been plays done in unusual places in Boston and on shoestring budgets but the problem is NO ONE GOES TO SEE THEM. There was a company I am not sure the name but they performed one act plays in bars which I thought was very unique. I have not heard and seen them since 2001. I can count on both hands the number of small theater companies that have come and gone with their shoestring budgets since 1999. They have no support and no one comes to see them.

If the Boston Theater Community is going to change we need to come together with ideas and with a sense of building a future that is solely for Boston, not New York or everywhere else. When this play about the church child abuse scandal does come to Boston this May I hope that people don’t think, "Gee, I wish this could have started in Boston". But rather think about how can we in, Boston as a community can become an established organized theater community. This should be a wake up call it is a prime example of how lacking the Boston theater community is. I am going to print out Art Hennessey’s e-mail and hang it next to my workstation at home. Every time I am at my desk creating I will look at it and read it. Kudos to you Mr. Hennessey for mentioning the "pink elephant" that is clearly in the room. Let’s hope that this will get the ball rolling this year. I am going to do my best to try and accomplish or at the very least talk about how to accomplish some of the goals that Mr. Hennessey has suggested for us. I can’t do it alone. Anyone interested?

From: "Arthur Hennessey" norfolk1a@hotmail.com Subject: Mere Opinion Date: Wed, 31 Mar 2004 15:30:51 -0500

Time for a Renaissance!!!
This is embarrassing. The fact that a playwright and theatre company in Chicago have chosen to mount the first specific theatrical treatment of a massive scandal that happened right in our backyard is more than little disappointing to me. My Brethren, let's get on the ball and start churning.

"Sin, A Cardinal Deposed," recently opened in Chicago at a mid-sized theatre company. It is basically the text of the deposition of Cardinal Law during the Church Abuse Scandal. At the end of a recent New York Times article a woman who had flown in from Boston to Chicago to see the play states, "she would work to bring it to a theater in Boston." In fact, it is going to come here to Wellesley College in May apparently.

So here we have The New York Times covering a hot new production in Chicago about something that has happened in our backyard! And our Chief Drama Critic in this city, Ed Siegel, has also flown out there to write, not only a REVIEW, but an extensive review and analysis.

Maybe you don't feel weird about this but I do. In fact, I am so irked that I am talking about it here publicly. Please don't misunderstand me, I am not saying that we aren't writing good stuff or trying to write good stuff, or trying to create great theatre. And I am not saying that capitalizing on a "hot social controversy" necessarily creates the best art at the time. Masterpieces are usually borne out of at least a little reflection. But the fact is that a vibrant theatre scene needs to keep up with the fast age we are in as well. I know we have great playwrights in this town. If you think that i am being a little harsh, you should read what Bill Marx has to say.

Think of all the rich material we have here:

Charles Stuart
Whitey Bulger raping girls in the back room of a bar in Southie
The Big Dig
The Swedish Nanny (Never solved.)
The first Female Governor pregnant and giving birth during her term.
The Movie Industry being financially pinched by the Unions.
The Airport where most of the hijackers flew out of.
The Shootings in broad daylight in Roxbury and Dorchester.
The Harvard/Fair Wage controversy.
The Deaths in the Fenway area after the sport riots
The Current Gay Marriage Debate!!!
The Vagina Monologues being done at at Ameherst High School
The Wealthy Society people who run the MFA
The art theft from the Isabella Stuart Gardner Museum
Two Catholic Schools having a rumble after a hockey game and one of them gets stabbed.
The Hockey Dad Killings
The Turnpike Controversy

But first let me go back to something important about the Chicago production. People are, "flying to Chicago to see this show." More specifically, people from Boston are flying to Chicago to see this show. Many people who are directly related to this controversy want to experience the catharsis that theatre will bring to them. People in our own community were suffering and we are not the first to try and make sense of it with our talents?

At a playwright's talk back after Our Lady of 121st Street a few weeks ago, many people in the audience, and the moderator, were begging the talented Stephen Adly Giurgis to come here to premiere his next play. There was even talk from him about writing a play involving the talented Vincent Siders whose amazing portrayal of Rooftop blew the roof off the theatre and then brought it down. It is hard for local playwrights, struggling to have their voice heard, and to keep perfecting their craft to see such New York Worship. Mr. Guirgis is undoubtedly talented, and has extreme gifts, but I could not help but feel that a little New York gilding was going on. Our Lady, which everybody should get down and see before it closes,) is far from a flawless work, (an assessment with which Mr. Guirgis agrees, lest you think I am out of my place.)

Well, with "Sin, A Cardinal's Deposition" coming to Boston, we can look forward to a talk back session with the playwright from California and we will all sit and lament how wouldn't it be great to be him or to be in the Chicago Theatre Scene or how great it would be for him to come here.

My response is for us to do whatever is possible. Let's start producing theatre, on a shoestring, in odd places. Garages, apartments, basements. Don't charge admission. Just invite a few people to see what you are doing. Use what you can. Let's get creative!

Get serious with actors, get to know the best talent. If Vincent Siders doesn't have at least three Boston playwrights writing a role for him right now, shame on us. Get inspired by them. Write things they would die to play. Workshop with a goal to performance. Be simple. Be complicated.

Treat yourself as an artist, not as "somebody trying to make it."

For the next year let's be the most prolific city for theatre creation in the country. Not all of it is going to be good, you say? Well, news flash, not all of it is good now! Let's make ourselves not just the most prolific writing, but the most prolific creating!

Crash the gate! Do something edgy and then take a scene from it and perform it on sidewalk in front of the Colonial as everybody is going in to see The Graduate or Sly Fox. And then hand out fliers!

I'm sorry. Does that sound desperate? Well guess what... We are desperate! SpeakEasy Theatre Company, in any other town, would have their own theatre! As would Sugan! What about Theatre Offensive?

When the Lion King opens Washington Street will have lines and lines of people squeezing into the narrow facade of the Opera House. Larry Stark has said that there are 90 theatre companies operating in the confines of Boston. How about we all show up to let them know that we exist?

New work is getting more and more exposure here in Boston...The Huntington's Breaking Ground Series presented readings of the work of several local playwrights. Boston Playwright's Theatre had a banner year. Devanaugh is having their second DragonFly play reading festival. Heck, even community theatre companies are getting into the act with ten-minute play competitions.

Date: Sat, 13 Mar 2004 10:40:47 -0800 (PST)
From: Will Stackman profwlll@yahoo.com
Subject: NUAN

Adam Gersatkov suggests this site. Might be worth putting in an announcement. A no-cost alternative to Stage Source

To: miche@nuan.org Date: Sat, 13 Mar 2004 10:40:47 -0800 (PST)
From: Larry Stark larry@theatermirror.com
Subject: NUAN

Hello. my name is Larry Stark, and I run a website called THE THEATER MIRROR [ http//www.theatermirror.com/ ]
From a base in Boston, The Mirror has tried to be aware of any theatrical activity in all of the six New England states (NOTE the state of New York is left out for fairly obvious reasons!).

How can I help you, and exactly WHAT do you hope to do?

I have largely stuck to reviewing plays for The Mirror in its past nine years or so, but I've kept my eyes open.
When I started, it was reviewing plays for a four-page "arts" newspaper here. A second "critic" dealt with the Broadway-tryout/touring shows that came through the city, while my "beat" was college and what we now call "fringe" and community theater. He and I traded-off reviews of the two "Regional" companies here --- until he became publisher and I graduated to "Theater Editor" and I took over covering those "Big Barn" productions --- about the time "Hair!" made its legally controversial debut in Boston.
What I learned from that experience was that it's much easier to do sublime work in a space where the audience is so close (and so small) that they can register the arch of an eyebrow as significant. And I think it's much easier to have the courage to fail when the production grosses less and costs less than multiple-millions of dollars.
For these reasons, I am seriously committed to finding and talking about the work of mostly non-union theater artists in what a friend christened "those hole-in-the-wall theatres" she had, up till then, given no attention whatever.

And so I ask again, what can I do to help NUAN?

Just about the time that little arts newspaper (now called THE BOSTON PHOENIX) was started, a famous theater name came up here intending to build a new regional theatre and, he was offer the new Spingold Theatre Complex at Brandeis University. But he said Boston was too close to New York, and so he moved out to Minneapolis to build his Guthrie Theatre.

For decades Boston was under the thumb of the three Big Barns in what is still called the Boston Theatre District. About the time I arrived in Boston (1957 or so) it was still true that anyone wanting a try-out run here in Boston had to book a two-week slot a year or more in advance, the number and competition of other producers was that intense. For that reason, when the first "off-Broadway" companies started here, the critic for the Boston GLOBE at first refused to review these home-teams because they were, he thought, beneath his dignity.

And when the try-out system shrank to only a long, withdrawing roar, and the Barns were more likely to be dark for as much as a year or more, that paper continued to act as though there were no theater worth noticing in Boston --- and that reviewer tried for years to get a job on a newspaper --- A N Y newspaper --- down in New York.

But theater never disappeared here. The Charles Playhouse and the Theatre Company of Boston got federal grants that kept them in business for years, and in 1970 I found ten of what would be called off-Off-Broadway companies here. By 2000, I found NINETY-THREE companies/theatres within the city-limits of Boston proper --- and that list left out a healthy fringe of community theatres mostly in the suburbs.

Most of the practitioners working in those theatres are Non-Union devotees --- and there are two Resident union-houses here, plus two "LORT-Contract" companies, and recently the standard Equity contract has been re-written to allow even smaller companies to include member actors in largely non-Equity casts.

But the Non-Union Actor is what has kept great theater alive and exciting here in Boston while the Big Barns are touring same-olds, and posters in our subways are offering hotel-dinner-&-a-show packages --- poaching for audiences that are Not rushing down to The Apple to see "the important stuff".
So I ask again How can I help you?
Break a leg......
( a k a larry stark )

From: "Arthur Hennessey" norfolk1a@hotmail.com
Subject: Mere Opinion
Date: Wed, 10 Mar 2004 09:33:20 -0500

"Bush Sniffs Glue and Proposes Funding Increase for the NEA!"

This is not a headline from The Onion. I assure you. It is true, (except for the glue part.)

George Bush has proposed an increase in the NEA’s budget? Wait. Are you sure that is not the N "R" A? Well, something must have happened to Mister Bush or his wife to make them so delirious. Did anyone check the kitchen for Al Queada operatives? They may have slipped the First Couple a mickey.

This 18 Million increase obviously helps to make great headlines for Bush as he saddles up for his ride into the dangerous campaign shootout awaiting him now that the Democratic battle royale has ended. But before performance artists start cracking open jars of peanut butter with which to smear their naked bodies in celebration, please read the newspaper articles in their entirety. This double-digit increase in budget, (which is providing a double-digit increase in blood pressure to such fiscal watchdog groups as the Cato Institute,) is being earmarked for an American Masterpieces program which will, in Bush’s words, “introduce Americans to the best of their cultural and artistic heritage. This program will sponsor presentations of great American works across all art forms.”

So don’t throw out the Starbuck’s aprons, or throw off the call center headsets just yet, because the legendary individual artist gravy train of the NEA won’t be rolling in anytime soon. And we better get used to spending Ivy Day in the Committee Room because our Frank Skeffington lost the election a long time ago, and the Ward bosses died with him. Sure, I feel a little slighted now and then, feeling like I was a generation too late. I missed the time when the Sugar Daddy version of the NEA was parceling out bling bling left and right, and now I have to struggle through the demeaning and arduous process of finding enough people to support my artistic vision because it appeals to them. However, this long overdue boost in NEA funding will at least enable people to experience already proven works of art, but I just hope that the vetting process for those works is a little better than that of the current administration’s intelligence apparatus.

The Cato Institute, a think tank purporting to be a champion for the “proper role of government,” is, of course, outraged. They quickly shot out a press release detailing all of the fiscal problems that we need to deal with, and did everything short of call the President a “drunken sailor,” with regards to his worn cashbelt zippers. However, since their sole purpose in life is to write political press releases, those at the Cato Institute have mastered the art of ridiculous double-speech and so are careful to tread that razor thin line between their outright hostility and polite compliment. Witness this paragraph;

“Because art is so powerful, because it deals with such basic human truths, we dare not entangle it with coercive government power. That means no censorship or regulation of art. It also means no tax-funded subsidies for arts and artists, for when government gets into the arts funding business, we get political conflicts.”

Play a little game now and substitute the word “healthcare” for “art.” Hey, look at that! You have just written your first Cato Institute Press Release!

In fact, the elves at Cato are so original that they recycle the old The-Great-Artists-Never-Had-Government-Subsidies argument. Cato Executive Vice President David Boaz enlightens us with this original revelation: “The kinds of things financed by federal cultural agencies were produced long before those agencies were created, and they will continue to be produced long after those agencies are privatized or defunded.” Yaaawwwnnn. Well Mr. Boaz, most of the great books of the world were produced long before those agencies too, but I would hope you are not for the gutting of programs that support the public libraries which make sure they are available to the public. Then again…I don’t know you that well.

To be fair to Cato they are outraged at Bush’s spending all over the place, even a proposed bail-out of the United States Postal Service gets slammed. Something tells me that in their attempt to attract the deaf ears of the normally skinflinty Bushies, (who don’t seem to have any problem pouring tons of tax dollars into the Enron Like Iraq project,) they decided to kick the already beaten NEA. I can visualize the editorial meeting now…

“What can we do to attract the conservatives?”
“I know, lets flog the arts.”
“Yeah, everybody hates the arts.”

Seriously, though, People like Cato should realize that Bush is being conservative with this proposal, it is fulfilling one of the more important missions of the National Endowment of the Arts which is to make sure that art is more accessible to the public. And with the way the economy is going now I think that may be important in the near future. This is, of course, my mere opinion. [ART HENNESSEY]

From: "Lisa Giuffre" l.giuffre@comcast.net
Subject: IRNES
Date: Tue, 17 Feb 2004 12:38:38 -0500

} Hi Larry,
Lisa Giuffre here. I hope you’ve been fairing well through this cold winter. I’ve been following the progress of the IRNE’s this year and boy was there a ton of good theater last year. I am curious though. When the awards were first conceived, wasn’t it in part to provide an outlet to recognize some of the stellar community theater or non-AEA productions out there? I noticed that the overwhelming nominations went to companies with Equity casts this year. I’m certainly not questioning the excellence of those productions but I am wondering where a production like A Chorus Line directed by Leslie Woodies and featuring Kirsten McKinney as Cassie down in Foxboro last September can get the kind of recognition it deserves. I usually don’t attend much community theater but I was told this one was a show not to be missed. And indeed I wasn’t disappointed. As far as I knew, IRNE reviewers such as yourself were also impressed with this production particularly that of Kirsten’s performance. The buzz has been that she could arguably be one of the best Cassie’s to perform the role. How did they fall out of the loop? Was there just too much competition? What is a good non-AEA musical production to do when this was the only award in Boston that they would have been eligible for. I’m curious what your thoughts are; off the record and confidential of course.
Also, let me know what’s up with you…..hope things are well and I’m sure I’ll see you around soon
Lisa Giuffre

Worst Play Lists - A mere opinion

    As Dogberry says, "Comparisons are odorous". The same might be said for the urge to put out Worst Play Lists, as a few writers have done this year. What purpose does such an exercise in personal spleen serve? It may be galling to sit through some ill-conceived theatrical event, especially if assigned to be there. And at the time, warning prospective audiences what they might be in for is appropriate; flogging a dead horse months later isn't.
    Being included on such a list helps neither the theatre group so stigmatized nor the general theater goer. If audience response was negative, most troupes get the message then and there and will try something different as soon as possible. If their audiences liked what the critic(s) rejected, they'll make the obvious choice. It's only the unknowing who might read such a list who'll be discouraged from taking a chance on future shows. Or not risk live theatre at all unless it's presold as an "event." Given the diminishing attention given to criticism in all the arts, collections of negatives seem fruitless at best.
    Personal best lists and awards can be risky as well. Such exercises give the reader a sense of what a particular reviewer remembers being impressed by. This probably speaks to that writer's sensibilities as much as to the quality of the work being recalled. Perhaps summarizing the overall state of live theatre and spotting trends rather than simply mentioning selected winners and non-winners would be more useful. As we head into the national awards season, everyone needs to remember, it really is only a matter of opinion.

Will Stackman

From: "Alison Ozer"
Subject: Amherst and the Monologues provokes dialogue

You are correct that mostly conservative voices have been heard on this issue, LArry Kelley and Dr. Isabel Lyman. Check out and publish the a link to WFCR 's local coverage with interviews with both MR. Kelly, Eve Ensler, students in the production and parents, by Charlene Scott.

There is a context that is NOT being discussed. Most folks in the community support this and were outraged by the cancellation of West Side Story. Censorship and attempts to control the voices and choices of our high shool students is what is common to both.

I am glad the school system is standing up to the 'few' but loud voices of dissent. I am sad they did not do so for West Side Story. Yes this is an imperfect town and with 'liberal' leanings that sometime baffle the world (and me) . But liberal is NOT a dirty word in my book..censorship and control by 'moral' minorities is more worrisome to me.

Some facts. The students are doing this. It is NOT the main school play, which will be Annie, and was Chicago last year. It is after hours and no one is forced to attend, in fact permission from parents will be required. THere are educational events surrounding the production.

Most students (and even middle schoolers) have been exposed to more violence and gratuitous sexual language and behavior on TV, MTV, movies that they have seen or heard about, even since elemenatray school. You 'd be amazed at what is learned on the school bus!

MY thoughts:

Well we are making news again about controversy over theatrical productions.

THis time it is in reference to a school sponsored production of The Vagina Monologues. We have 'activist' CONSERVATIVE Larry Kelley garnering media attention to ban the prodcution for it's R rated content and his so called interpretation that it condones lesbian sex between an adult and a minor..Let's say he highlights the 'worst' most sensational monologues and of course misses the point.

It is part of a week long series of edcuational events on women's issues, including health and safety. Students chose to produce it.

SO here is my response:

Listening to Larry Kelly and our Superintendent discussing the appropriateness of presenting The Vagina Monologues at ARHS, in local papers and on the TV news, provokes many strong feelings about all the politics around the town's theatrical productions.

Personally I feel the coverage that `activist' Mr. Kelley has been seeking nationally has been mostly self-serving sensationalism and pressure tactics. I would not call Fox News and the O'Reilly factor segment balanced. I do not think his interest has been to seek sincere dialogue.

First of all, though surprised that TVM would be performed at the school, understanding the context helps: education on women's issues; self esteem, body image, aging, sexual maturation, sexual repression, and abuse. As a parent, I am not overly concerned about the sexual content, and have faith that the educated public, including the students, will understand the monolo! gues are particular perspectives of particular women, and not advocating modeling of them.

No one is being forced to attend this production, chosen by the students themselves. I watched the show with my 13 year old daughter, on video loaned from our local Jones library. She was not shocked by the language, having heard worse on the buses since 5th grade, via MTV, and a multitude of movies. It opened up discussion about feelings and experiences of being female.

What I am concerned about is censorship in our schools; banning of books, suppressing differences of opinion and discussion of contemporary concerns, and squashing artistic expression.

This is what links the current issue to the cancellation of West Side Story.

I was appalled that the marvelous musical that brought so much talent to the stage would be banned over fear of accusations of racial stereotyping and discrimination.

I grew up in New York City! , lived on the lower East side in Puerto Rican neighborhoods, with Puerto Rican friends and dance partners. The fact that Puerto Ricans don't generally dance flamenco, unless they studied it, is not a significant reason to ban a show. Gangs don't do jazz/ballet and typically sing musical-style either!

The message AGAINST violence and class/race discrimination that is at the heart of WSS was, and is, being overlooked. It is a poignant plea for people to love across barriers! The fact that many poor immigrants formed gangs (including Latin Americans) has to be faced up to. The reasons why gangs are attractive to youth is important to discuss. The strong allegiance and need to belong is highly relevant to High School teens. Suppressing the show suppressed these lessons and instead divided the community.

The ridicule that folks express towards Amherst has to do with this. Most understand that musicals and theater por! tray perspectives, not historical reality. Audiences understand this is art, comedy, fantasy, and program notes can put things into historical and cultural perspectives.

Frankly I was surprised that Chicago was produced last year. I heard no complaints about the portrayal of Irish, lawyers, women, and minority go-getters with lack of a traditional moral compass, or about the sophisticated seductive numbers.(Great show - done extremely well)

Is it not ridiculous that we can feature the power of sex and money over the messages of West Side Story or Vagina Monologues?

As to activism in the interests of community, I am proud that high school students will take on the controversy with a production of West Side Stories this month at Bowker Auditorium at UMASS.

And I'd enjoy an ARHS presentation of Hair, tangled with the topics and language of Drugs and Sex. It is still relevant with messages about class, race, gender, love, and war to which both parents and kids in this town can relate!

Alison Ozer
Amherst Ma

From: "Alison Ozer" amozer1@hotmail.com
Subject: PS on Monologues and ARHS productions
By the way...ARHS produced Our Town last year! Great production. The kids are mature and talented here in Our Amherst town!

From: Geralyn Horton g.l.horton@mindspring.com
Subject: chicago

Theaters plan role for business leaders

By Chris Jones
Tribune arts reporter
January 26, 2004
Armed with new custom-created research claiming Chicago-area theaters are worth a whopping $347 million in total economic activity to their home metropolis, the League of Chicago Theatres is on a newly energized mission to convince local corporate leaders that Chicago theater deserves to be taken more seriously by business interests.
The league, an advocacy group representing both for-profit and non-profit theaters, will argue its case for greater economic legitimacy in a Monday lunchtime program presented by the City Club of Chicago titled "The Creative Edge: What It Can Mean for Your Business." The City Club generally stays away from arts programming -- but the league pushed hard for the chance to convince Chicago's suits that theaters will make good partners for them.
"We want to talk about opportunities," said Marj Halperin, the league's executive director. "This is about having a direct conversation with the business community."
The league's new figures -- developed by the Minneapolis-based research firm Conventions, Sports and Leisure International -- use economic multipliers applied to direct spending to argue that money spent on live theater ripples through the local economy, creating a far bigger impact than immediately is apparent. Direct spending refers to purchases made as a result of a theater's actual operations; indirect spending consists of the respending of those dollars elsewhere. The study, to be released on Monday, argues that Chicago's live theater industry has doubled its direct and indirect economic impact in just seven years -- from $164 million in 1996 to $347 million in 2002. Since 1996, the league's study (an extension of an earlier study commissioned by the Illinois Arts Alliance) claims, the local live theater industry has generated a total of about $823 million in direct spending and $1.7 billion in total output.
In terms of total employment (which includes direct, indirect and induced job creation), the league says theaters account for a total of 6,417 full- and part-time jobs in the Chicago area. There's no discussion of salaries, though, and jobs in the arts are notorious for paying poorly.
The league also claims there are about 2.4 million theater-goers in Chicago -- yielding a total 2002 attendance at Chicago theaters in excess of 7 million people.
Economic forecasting -- a staple of proposals and brochures for new publicly funded sports stadiums and arenas -- has become a common tool for advocacy or industry groups looking to show potential funders that their grants and investments of public money make economic sense as well as being the right philanthropic or cultural thing to do.
Usually, such studies are commissioned and promoted by those with a vested interest in the result.
"You could rip off the arguments used to promote the new Bears stadium, and I bet you'd see pretty much the same kinds of numbers and multipliers," said Donald Haider, a professor at Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management. "Most development studies are only as good as their assumptions."

The Bears facts

Indeed, when the McCaskey family unveiled plans in 1995 for a new stadium to replace Soldier Field, they also hired the accounting firm of Ernst & Young to analyze the economic impact of the Bears on Chicago, including construction of a new stadium. The study, commissioned to persuade people that public subsidy of the stadium was a smart idea, concluded that direct and indirect spending would be $125 million in 1995 and grow to $158 million by 2000. During construction of a stadium, the study said, total output was estimated to reach $322.3 million in 1998.
Were those numbers reasonable? Forecasting the economic impact of the arts is hardly an exactly science.
"There aren't the generally accepted standards and principles in this kind of forecasting in the way that there are generally accepted accounting principles," says James Phills, an associate professor in the Graduate School of Business at Stanford University and co-director of its Center for Social Innovation. "This kind of forecasting is notoriously difficult. It's like trying to predict the effects of George Bush's tax cuts. You'll always get a lot of divergence of opinion."
It's especially tricky, Phills argues, when theaters or other arts groups try to argue that they represent a better bang for the buck than, say, the same public dollar invested in biotechnology. Furthermore, when a group attributes money spent on a baby-sitter or a pre-theater dinner to the theater industry, Phills says, a typical assumption is that that money would otherwise not have flowed into the economy. And that's not necessarily the case.
Still, the league's study uses a legitimate economic forecasting model provided by the Minnesota IMPLAN Group, a private economic modeling company. This system uses a variety of data to determine the correct multipliers, depending on "regional characteristics" and "the nature of expenditures" to arrive at figures it deems reasonable.

Conservative data

"The multipliers we use are based on a tremendous amount of data and are very conservative and realistic," said John Kaatz, the director of Conventions, Sports and Leisure International.
"We have great sensitivity to not overstating the impact. That achieves nothing.'
And even if the final numbers might be open to debate, both Phills and Haider say it's beyond all reasonable doubt that the arts groups have a decent case that their ongoing health and vitality can help other businesses.
"There's no question that the economic impact of the arts," Phills says, "is greater than the economic activity they themselves generate."
"The numbers aren't as important as the groups coming together," Haider says. "The arts make sense, and the arts make money."
For Halperin and her crew, that's essentially the message they hope to push Monday at the City Club lunch -- which likely will have more arts leaders in attendance than at any other time in its long history of economic and political programming.
Chicago theater, the league will argue, is a thriving collection of commercial and non-profit groups that only look more important to the city in the wake of the recent spate of corporate headquarters leaving town.
"The numbers are there," Halperin says. "We're a big business in Chicago and we want to have relationships with other big businesses who can help us."

Copyright © 2004, Chicago Tribune
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Geralyn Horton, playwright
Newton, MA
Check out my FREE MONOLOGS

From: Norfolk1a@aol.com (alias ART HENNESSEY)
Date: Wed, 21 Jan 2004 15:40:31 -0500
Subject: This is not your parent's Our Town!

Hi Larry,
When looking forward to Valentine's Day the theatre public has come to expect worldwide productions of Eve Ensler's The Vagina Monologues. In an international program to raise awareness about violence against women venues from Broadway houses, to community theatres, to colleges produce the play, which consists of a series of monologues that can be performed by a single actress or multiple performers. This year there is an unexpected addition to those venues...Amherst Regional High School students will be performing the play.

The school committee apparently approved this production, and it probably would have gone unnoticed except for the conservative ideologues who are looking for anything to fill the daily programming for their shows. And believe me, a subject that gives them legitimate cause to say, "vagina," seventy times in a half hour segment and still take a conservative viewpoint must be the manna from heaven they usually only dream of as they listen clandestinely to Howard Stern. It is a little surprising, and disappointing, that the major media has not done anything a little more in depth on it; Time Magazine had little more than a blurb. And as a result, we are left with only conservative columns and tabloid video barrages with which to piece it all together. Maybe people in the TheaterMirror Community might be able to share a little more insight.

My mere opinion? I actually think it is an interesting development, and I think that the Bill O'Reilly's of the world might actually have a point when they are worried that The Vagina Monologues, while a legitimate and powerful drama, is a little much for High School. Although I offer that viewpoint hesitantly because I haven't really seen much reporting on the situation, and I will confess that though I have read the play I have never seen it performed.

An issue added to most reports I have seen on the situation concerns how Amherst Regional High School rejected doing West Side Story because of the negative stereotype of Hispanics the musical presents.

Things I would like to know:
Is this a during-school-hours performance or something the students are putting on at night?
Did the students pick this play?
Any Mirror Readers please respond to Larry's Site
Here are some links that offer some background on the situation:

To: Larry@theatermirror.com From: Geralyn Horton g.l.horton@mindspring.com
Subject: stars in our eyes
Date: Thu, 22 Jan 2004 13:15:02 -0500

Newspaper rating systems for arts reviews are more likely to obscure than illuminate, says Sarah Crompton

A lovely tiff has blown up this week between the eminent playwright David Hare and The Guardian's esteemed theatre critic Michael Billington over what Hare describes as The Guardian's "militantly philistine policy" of allocating star ratings to reviews of the arts.

But it's not just The Guardian that brands the judgment of its critics with a mark of up to five stars. The Telegraph is now the only daily broadsheet newspaper that has not adopted a similar system. (The Sunday papers are by and large avoiding it; the London Evening Standard has dropped its stars for live performance.)

I am very proud that we have held out against the tide, because I am with David Hare on this one: star systems demean the role of reviewers, and they devalue the art forms reviewed.

As he memorably says: "It is noticeable that in the books pages no such vulgarity obtains It is only the tumblers and fiddlers of the performing arts who have to be put where they belong, alongside washing-machine surveys and comparative studies of frozen foods."

In the time I have been in charge of the arts coverage on this paper - and certainly in the three years or so since The Guardian started to use stars on its reviews - the subject of a rating system has come up over and over again.

The argument brandished in its favour is that it helps the consumer decide whether to attend the event reviewed. But the principal argument against it, the reason this paper has never adopted it, is that, in fact, it does the exact opposite.

Stars of the rating kind actively stop people reading the reviews: they act as an instant summary that indicates no need to explore any further.

Yet a good review is much more than a verdict. It's a mini-feature on what it was like to be at a particular event at a particular time. If the reviewer is clever and wise (and most are), it will probably contain one nugget of information you didn't know, one fact that you can add to your appreciation of the art form under scrutiny.

In this sense, it is like a match report. I don't read Henry Winter's account of Manchester United's latest foray in the Premiership to know the result; I probably already know that. I want to know what it felt like to be there and read his description of the way Giggs slipped up the wing.

In an arts context, it is these incidental pleasures that a star system can deprive the reader of. You might read a five-star review of Mourning Becomes Electra to find out why it achieved perfection; you might be tempted to read a one-star (or, irresistibly, a no-star) review to discover why an event was so bad.

But what about all the average performances that get two or three stars? Doesn't that little symbol at the top of the column just brand them with mediocrity?

Truthfully, most evenings out at the theatre, opera, ballet or concert hall (pop or classical) are three-star evenings: a little bit good, a little bit disappointing. But hidden under the crude branding may be a great idea, an illuminating performance, an interesting concept. In being able to describe an event, a review can give a full and multi-faceted picture.

But stars are too clumsy an instrument to describe this kind of nuance. They are a bludgeon, not a scalpel. Yet, if they put you off reading the review in which such details are revealed, they may deprive you of exactly the pleasant evening out you were looking for.

They act against consumer interest in another way, too. Critics, whatever they say in public, are generally aware of the limitations of the star system. They know that a three-star rating is the kiss of boredom - and thus they are likely to exaggerate their opinion one way or another, pushing up liking into praise to earn four stars, diminishing it to disdain to award one or two.

This leads to a fatal lack of consistency in assessment. The other day a pop reviewer gave Primal Scream the top rating for a concert. Does this really mean the event was better than David Hare's very own The Permanent Way, described within the review as "a great production"? Or does it just mean that one reviewer is more generous with his stars than another? There is no way of knowing.

When I was initially finding my way into the arts, exploring theatre and dance, reviews were part of my inspiration - and part of my learning curve. They illuminated performances and plays for me.

Star systems don't illuminate, they obscure. While appearing to help and encourage people to discover the arts, they actually do the opposite. All arts lovers should oppose them.
Geralyn Horton

From: Norfolk1a@aol.com (a k a Art Hennessey)
Date: Wed, 21 Jan 2004 10:21:59 -0500
Subject: Hare Takes on Star Ratings

Hi Larry,
David Hare takes on the Guardian's star ratings for theatre in a column. Most of the critics on Robert Brustein's Function of the Critic panel lamented the same thing.
Some of the highlights of Hare's column:
"Apart from anything else, why does a self-respecting critic agree to a system of grading that renders his or her detailed reaction superfluous? 'What did the Guardian think of it?' 'Oh, they gave it two stars.' Why would any critic let their presumably thoughtful work be so diminished?"
"It is noticeable, of course, that in the books pages no such vulgarity obtains. In the English scale of snobbery, novels and biographies are regarded as proper, and so don't have to be treated like homework that has been handed in for marking. It is only the tumblers and fiddlers of the performing arts who have to be put where they belong, alongside washing-machine surveys and comparative studies of frozen foods."
The full column is here:

Date: Tuesday, 23 2003
In April 1960, New York TIMES Theatre Critic BROOKS ATKINSON, in THEATRE ARTS Magazine, said

In newspapers, theatrical comment is a form of reporting. To thousands of readers the theatre is a source of excitement and delight. Since they want to be informed at once about productions they may see, daily newspapers report the news of the theatre as swiftly as they report other events. It is the function of the newspaper critic ("reviewer" would be the exact word) to report the news of the theatre as Washington correspondents report the news of government and financial reporters the affairs of the stock market up to date.

If publishers employ theatre critics because of the news value of the theatre, managers of theatres solicit comment from newspaper critics at opening nights for the same reason: They regard the opening of a play as news of general interest. If they are lucky, the news may help them to fill the theatre.

But this is the point where the fundamental distinction must be made between newspaper criticism and most reporting. The sole functyion of the compiler of the stock-market table is to do his work objectively. His jopb is to report the price of AT&T accurately. Although the Washington correspondent also intends to report facts objectively, he can hardly avoid interpreting them in some degree. He interprets them the first place by judging their news value in relation to the other facts of the day.. He cannot entirely eliminate the personal element no matter how consciously he tries. Absolute objectivity is impossible in any part of the day's news report except in the stockmarket table, the weather statistics and the schedule of ship arrivals and departures.

In all forms of newspaper criticism, however, the emphasis is on the other side completely. Criticism is overwhelmingly subjective. This is the point where criticism differs from other kinds of reporting; and, also, this is the place where the trouble begins. For the news value of a play depends on its theatrical values. In simple terms: is it a good play or not? It may have the grandest of themes. It may have a glamorous cast. Both of these elements can be reported. But if play and performance do not arouse some emotional or intellectual response in the threatregoer, they are worthless because they do not fulfill the primary function of the theatre. They are as lifeless as the scenery that is carted away after a flop.

Now we are escaping from the citadel of facts entirely. Whether or not a play is lefeless is not a fact; it is a personal judgement. No matter how the judgement is stated, it remains a personal opinion. It mirrors the projection of the personality of the theatregoer on the image of the play. If the play has blind spots, other theatregoers will see them.

For there is no such thing as being right or wrong about the values of any art. There are only opinions. Although the criticism may look magisterial in the columns of a newspaper, they are really arguments in support of personal opinions. Their value depends solely upon the qualifications as a theatregoer of the person who writes them. His public opinions can have no areas of understanding broader than his private thoughts.

If there could be such a thing as a satisfactory critic, he would be the one who never says anything that everyone does not agree with --- professional theatre people as well as theatregoers. But this is a manifest absurdity. There has never been a production so bad that someone did not cherish it to his bosom, or so glamorous that somebody did not despise it. The tide of opinion went against Faulkner's REQUIEM FOR A NUN last season, but some theatregoers regarded it as a powerful and illuminating drama. The tide of opinion has been running in favor of MY FAIR LADY for four years, but some theatregoers, finding it dull, do not understand its popularity.

Archibald MacLeish's J.B. won the Pulitzer Prize. But many intelligent theatregoers dislikes it when it was in New York. Wherever it has trudged throughout the United States and Canada, it has been denigrated by some people who have never seen it. Who is right? Even if the play survives as a text fifty years hence, will those who admire it today be vindicated? Who knows? Ibsen's PEER GYNT survives as a text nearly a century after Ibsen wrote it. Does survival prove that it is a dramatic masterpiece, or is survival an instance of academic cant? Although everyone has an opinion about these matters, no one is qualified to make a final judgement.

In judgements of art there are two elements, both of them a form of life that interact on each other. The work of art (in this case a play) is an expression of life by someone who has a point of view. It is not a mechanical object, like a refrigerator or a motor or a tractor. They can be judged by the efficiency with which they do the work they have been designed for. But a play is not static. It is incandescent: it radiates life.

Not for everyone, however, or not for everyone in the same degree. Not everyoneis attuned to the same wave length. For the observer is they second form of life involved in judgements of art, which represent an exchange of impulses between him and the art. The observer's opinion can be turned against him. It criticizes him as clearly as he criticizes art. What he thinks about the subject he is discussing discloses the baffling complex of his personality --- his sensitive areas as well as the areas that are dead. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, Emerson said. The man without beauty cannot see it.

Differences of opinion about a play --- sometimes total, usually partial --- dervive from the biological fact that no two people are identical. Their opinions may overlap. But they never coincide because no two people see exactly the same things in a play. In the case of MY FAIR LADY, for instance, thousands of people all over the world derive approximately the same pleasure from Eliza's fantastic adventures in Cinderella-land. Fundamentally, they agree; and that is all that concerns the box-office treasurer.

But if it werer possible to analyze their individual opinions, it would appear that each opinion differs in detail or intensity because each theatregoer projects into Eliza's adventures the appropriate parts of his own heritage, experience, knowledge and feeling. Although na man and whife may have enjoyed the performance enormously and gone home in a glow of good feeling, their individual senses of identification with Eliza and Professor Higgins have not been the same. In other words, their opinions overlap but do not coincide. Since a meeting of minds on such topics is vague at best, total agreement is impossible. This puzzling phenomenon has to be accepted as the price we pay for creativeness, imagination and personal independence in a free civilization.

The newspaper critic differs from most theatregoers in a matter of degree. He cannot surrender to his personal tastes completely. Despite limitations, he must make an attempt to look at a play from the point of view of the author and actors. Theatregoers can make sweeping choices, and say, as many of them do, that "there is so much misery in the world that I want to be entertained in the theatre."

But in the normal course of his duties the newspaper critic must deal with all kinds of productions --- antic farces and shattering tragedies, standard musical comedies and religious dramas. In short, he has to apply himself to show business as well as to art.

With the best intentions in the world, he cannot respond with equal sensitivity to the whole range of theatrical expression. His natural tastes, when undisciplined by his responsibilities, incline him either towards show business or art --- which is the Continental Divide in the theatre. His judgements cannot be equally discerning at both extremes of the spectrum. But he is obliged to make the attempt. Justice is what he is after. In judging art in the daily press, even relative justice is difficult. Objective justice is impossible anywhere.

From: "Bill Marx" bmarx@WBUR.BU.EDU
Organization: The WBUR Group
To: larrystark@theatermirror.com
Date: Fri, 12 Dec 2003 13:20:01 -005
Subject: A response to Art's letter from Bill Marx

I want to agree with a couple of things in Art Hennessey’s response to my columns. First, he did a valuable service by writing up the critics confab at Boston University Theatre. And his point about online criticism is spot on: a place that should be filled with thoughtful, scrappy, well written, independent criticism has become a home for publicists, hangers-on, and boosters.

On the other hand, my WBUR arts column is not about reporting, but a place to explore ideas. And since when does the size or kind of publication the reviewer works for dictate the courage of his judgements? Do some audiences deserve dumbed down, craven criticism? Hennessey’s own examples of good critical behaviour – Ebert, Rich – are taken from the world of pop media. Why should the “Phoenix,” the “Globe” and others not show the same independence of mind? All critics worth their salt should defend unjustly savaged performances and take on the ever growing army of emperors with no clothes, which includes critics as well as artists.

Given the knee jerk liberalism of so much criticism, Steyn’s conservatism represents a provocative alternative. His recent piece on the ideological pieties of “Trumbo” is a case in point. He would at least have talked about criticism and politics, a subject that never came up. Yes, “The New Criterion" has a small audience, but many of the major critics, from Shaw to Bentley, wrote for tiny readerships. I thought the panel was about the future of theater criticism, not what critics-with- different-readerships- think-about-it. Panels used to be about spirited exchanges of contradictory ideas: they have devolved into marketing opportunities for like-minded people.

Finally, I do not say in my columns that the answer to the current malaise in theater reviewing is to “trash all you see.” The answer is what it has always been and always will be for criticism that's about quality rather than expediency: to take theater seriously by making a case and arguing it with reason, passion, humor, independence, etc. Hennessey is hung up on opinion, which is part of the consumer guide mentality that’s increasingly turning criticism into sound bytes. The idea is not only to render a verdict, but to write about theater in ways that make readers think. But that means a critic has to be able to think: if one believes that Boston is in a perpetual Golden Age of Theatre, then one's mind has been made up.

Bill Marx
Bill Marx
Arts Critic
890 Commonwealth Avenue, Third Floor
Boston, MA 02215

From: Geralyn Horton g.l.horton@mindspring.com
Subject: opinions-- by S. Bayley in the Telegraph
Date: Tue, 2 Dec 2003 14:25:24 -0500

Explaining why he knew his subject better than others, (George) Steiner wrote a bravura sentence designed to lose him what few friends he might have had among the legions of limp, multicultural relativists who inhabit Britain's universities: "The difference between the judgment of a great critic and that of a semi-literate censorious fool lies in its range of inferred or cited reference, in the lucidity and rhetorical strength of articulation or in the accidental addendum which is that of a critic who is a creator in his own right."
Opinions flourish only in periods or cultures without a dominant religion. A medieval monk in his Cluniac abbey or a contemporary mullah in his mosque and, indeed, a fine Victorian gentleman, had little use for original opinions. The collective opinions of religion are inflexible dogma, not interesting expressions of private thought. The best opinions are contrarian, not conformist, although that is in itself a matter of opinion.

Opinions make you think, or at least stop you being stupid. Or perhaps, less charitably, help to disguise it. Certainly, whatever the interpretation, they provide comfort. Sometimes, passionately held opinions are stupid ones.

But Wittgenstein believed that if people never did stupid things, nothing intelligent would ever happen.

In this sense, human progress depends on the continuing practice of forming opinions. So progress, or at least a form of it, is assured. And so it is enchanting to consider the etymology of "idiot". Nowadays meaning someone of deficient intellect, it originally meant an independent person with ideas of his own. So if you are idiotic, you are civilised. Some may find that a challenging opinion.

A Dictionary of Idiocy by Stephen Bayley (Gibson Square Books), available for £9.99 plus £2.25 p&p. To order, call Telegraph Books Direct on 0870 155 7222
Sent to The Mirror by:
Geralyn Horton, playwright
Newton, MA
Check out my FREE MONOLOGS


From: Geralyn Horton Subject: reviewing
Date: Wed, 3 Dec 2003 16:07:34 -0500

Long interesting article on reviewing from the Guardian, UK. at http://books.guardian.co.uk/news/articles/0,6109,1091150,00.html


From: Norfolk1a@aol.com
Subject: WBUR Public Arts article from Art
Date: Tue, 9 Dec 2003 10:51:09 -0500 (EST)

I saw this article and thought it might interest you. Either click on the link below, or copy it into your browser address window and press "Enter."
And let me know what you think!
[ http://publicbroadcasting.net/wbur/arts.artsmain?action=viewArticle&id=575033&sid=13 ]
[ http://www.publicbroadcasting.net/wbur/arts.artsmain?action=viewArticle&sid=13&id=578685#snark2 ]
Hi Larry,
In case you didn't see this, I sent it to you.

Bill is right on the cutting edge! I mean this panel only happened a month ago. Well, at least he is a major critic giving some acknowledgement to the proceedings. [ http://www.theatermirror.com/coc.htm ]

He is actually doing an injustice to the critics who were there. They are writing for different audiences than Steyn or even Marx for that matter. Mark Steyn writes for the New Criterion, (one of my favorite publications, but it has a circulation of about 23,) and he rarely takes as spirited a stand against things as Mr. Marx would like to think. I mean, how hard is it to trash The Blue Room starring Nicole Kidman?

For me, a brave critical stand is Frank Rich stating that he stands by his praising of Madonna's Broadway debut in Speed-the-Plow. Or Roger Ebert saying that the box office bomb Gigli deserves at least some credit for its frank, realistic, and, (according to Mr. Ebert,) refreshing dialogue about sexual matters.

Actually, one of the disappointments I have had with criticism over the past few years is just how little on-line reviewers have taken advantage of their medium. In the early days or the internet boom I would read movie reviews that would elaborate on movies extensively, calling in references from current events and even the reviewer's personal life. Now, a large majority of online reviewers seem to all want to imitate major media criticis as if they want to be seen as legitimate somehow.

I don't know what the answer is, but I don't think that "trashing most of what you see," is it.
What do you think?
Art [Hennessey]


From: "Caroline Ellis" clbellis@earthlink.net
Subject: The institution of press night
Date: Fri, 5 Dec 2003 17:54:01 -0500
Importance: Normal

What do you think about press nights? About charging audiences full price for several nights before the show is ready? How long has this been going on? 30 years? I myself don't get it. I always thought that actors couldn't begin to develop their characters until all lines were committed to memory and internalized, but sometimes actors are going before audiences with notes in hand. Or playwrights are changing lines, directors are changing moves, etc. Maybe if the audiences who come to the show before press night paid half price, it would be OK, but as it is, I think it is an unfair to them and prone to more slipshod results even after press night.


Date: Thu, 11 Dec 2003 12:39:39 -0500
From: Larry Stark larry@theatermirror.com
Subject: MERE Opinion

My opinions about critics, criticism, Bill Marx and The Boston GLOBE are spread all over The Mirror. Beyond seeing (or at least hoping for) a difference between first-night "Reviews" versus thoughtful "Critiques" --- daily reviewers all think they are really critics --- I can't add much to my OPINIONS in the matter.

But let me rant a little about the Sunday New York TIMES:
Centuries ago the first page of what they call "SECTION 2" featured a half-page sketch by Hirschfeld commenting upon whatever important show had opened that week, or would in the coming week.
Even after the art went by the boards, there was for some time a column that talked of three different productions that had opened that week. That was In Addition To interviews with playwrights/actors/producers that went into trends and ideas in some depth.
Then the TIMES became a national or international newspaper every Sunday, with reviews or articles on shows in other American cities, Nightingale's reviews of shows in London, and articles on theater in other world capitols.

Way way back, I read the Sunday TIMES to find out what had happened, theatrically, in the most important theater city in America.
That's not what I get out of the paper every week these days.
Much more important: the TIMES tried to extort more cash from me by delivering three DAILY issues, followed up with a telemarketing call.

For those three issues of "the newspaper of record" in that most important theater city in America THERE WASN'T A SINGLE REVIEW OF ANY PLAY ANYWHERE IN THE PAPER.

Is it any wonder, then, that this year ads began appearing in T-stops offering people a chance to "sleep with the stars" on package-tours to The Apple giving hotel-room and tickets to "sold-out" productions.

It may easily be true that there is no good Criticism being written these days. It is certainly true, though, that there is nowhere near enough REVIEWING OF PLAYS going on in our newspapers.

I think Caroline's question bears an interesting sub-text about "freezing" a production when it is "ready" for the public --- and not before. Stage-Managers take careful notes through rehearsals while directors tinker and change their minds, but they are often adamant that, once it's turned over to them for the run, No Changes Can or SHOULD Take Place; directors are sometimes invited back to long-run shows "to take out all the 'improvements' ."

But theater isn't movies; what you see is N E V E R frozen. Every night is different.

And, much more important, theater is always a Dialogue between the PLAY and the AUDIENCE. If there is no audience, or not Enough audience, the exercize is nothing but a rehearsal. The audience is Part of The Cast.
And the only way for the cast to find out how that new Cast Member will react to their work is to fill the house for, to say the least, the Dress Rehearsal. But that should take place After all the Rehearsal Work is finished, and all the cast needs to know is how to tighten already settled details of performance. I mean, an actor will never know whether to pause for a laugh if there is no audience there to laugh --- or not.

I think the companies that need "previews" here in Boston are the larger professional companies --- A.R.T., Huntington, New Rep, Lyric --- that rehearse full-time with Equity-level performers, and need a couple performances before live audiences to perfect what they have built.
(The shows that feature actors script-in-hand in front of audiences will probably Never be ready for prime-time. Rehearsals should BEGIN only when the whole cast is off-book and ready to work. There's no excuse for such, at all.)

About changes by playwright, director, or cast:
When audiences in New Haven went to see a show called "Green Grow The lilacs" they participated by their reactions to the evolution of that unfinished work into something that, in the Colonial Theatre here in Boston, became "Oklahoma!" The creative team making that show needed to find out what would Not work or needed Changing. Without performances on the try-out circuit before live audiences, that classic wouldn't exist.

What Boston audiences got during the try-out days was a look at productions fluid enough to be improved, followed in a year or two with bus-and-truck tours that had been frozen and done to death down in The Apple.
When try-outs stopped, "previews" started down in New York. They could go on for days or months before the producers were satisfied. The previews also gave their Marketing people a chance to figure out how to sell the show, and what kind of audience to sell it to. Not even the bigger Equity-cast companies here in Boston need to work that way.

Okay, there are a few of MY opinions.

They are, though, MERE Opinions.

What do YOU think?

( a k a larry stark )

American Theatre at a Crossroad:
The Future of the Playwright

From: Norfolk1a@aol.com
Date: Tue, 18 Nov 2003 11:18:45 -0500
Subject: American Theatre at a Crossroad - The Future of the Playwright

Hi Larry,
Here as a quick play by play of the Discussion Panel last night! Once again, my apologies if I am misquoting. This recap is from my scribbled notes

. American Theatre at a Crossroad

The Future of the Playwright

Moderator: Robert Brustein


John Guare - Playwright
Wendy Wasserstein -Playwright
Christopher Durang - Playwright
Paula Vogel - Playwright
Jim Nicola - Artistic Director

Quote of the Evening: "Did you hear about the Polish actress....she slept with the writer."

The first impression last night at the final session of Robert Brustein's panel discussions on the future was that the talent always packs them in the aisles. There was a notable increase in attendance as compared to last week's panel, The Function of the Critic. Though the playwright's were a little wittier, and more forceful in their convictions, they did not provide the more informative discussion we heard the critics give about their direction and their function. While it was an informative evening about age old questions of playwrighting, only Paula Vogel really started the discussion into the area of what is the "future of the playwright."

Moderator Robert Brustein asked his standard three questions:

1. Do playwrights have an obligation to deal with current social and political events?

2. What is the role of the playwright in the theatre?

3. What are the differences in writing for the stage and for other mediums such as film?

Brustein added that after 9/11 it was the playwright's who responded the fastest, trying to make sense of the tragedy. Indeed, The Guys is a powerful work of drama that came out so fast on the heels of 9/11 that it was almost amazing.

John Guare started things off by pointing out that Ibsen was always shocked that A Doll's House became a launching pad for dialogue involving feminism and women's rights. In his view, playwrights aren't neccessarily trying to be political. He stated that a playwright's obligation is to tell what happened at this moment in history. "To say this is what it was like to be alive and living at this moment, and," he continued, "by the very nature of doing that it makes it political."

The text is also a sacred thing to Mr. Guare. "Once the production is over, all you are left with is the text," he said. He continued by explaining that to him the director is an illuminator and not a collaborator. He brought up the fact that Samuel Beckett "owns" Endgame and that he can insist it is performed however he wants it to be. As far as the film world goes, he thinks it is a different ballgame, and he doesn't particularly like working for film because you don't own your words. In fact, he was on the set of Atlantic City for which he wrote the screenplay and one of the producers asked why the writer was on the set. Louis Malle, the director, said, "If you have somebody here for the hair, why wouldn't you want somebody for the the words?"

Wendy Wasserstein agreed, and told a funny anecdote about how she got calls from Hollywood after her play The Heidi Chronicles had received all its praise. She met with a Hollywood representative named Wendy. ("The skinniest Wendy I have have ever seen in my life," she joked.) Wendy told Wendy that they just had problems with the second act, the third act and the main character. Wasserstein thought, "I just won the Pulitzer Prize a week ago can you give me this moment just a little longer?" Agreeing with John Guare she said that in film and televisio, you don't own your work. However, she did have a great experience making the film Object of My Affection, but she attributed that experience to the fact that Nicholas Hyntner, a theatre person, was the director on that film.

Wasserstein said that the very act of playwrighting is political because it expresses individual voice in a society where choices are being diminished. On a plane recently, she saw a photo in the newspaper of President Bush signing the late term abortion bill. She said that one of the people standing around him seemed very happy and had his hands clasped as if he was praying. This made her so angry, and she said that that anger is individual voice, and it is the stuff of which plays are made.

Christopher Durang, the hit of the evening, started by saying that he got hung up on the word "obligation." He said that he feels that social issues fit into plays automatically, but that the political does not so much fit in easily. He related an experience of having reacted very strongly to the Bush-Dukakis political debates and wrote the play Media Amuck. However, in retrospect, he feels that he did not have enough time to really absorb and process all of the implications and that he may have attempted to dramatize it too soon.

He told a story of how a college production added simulated sex scenes to the end of one of his plays. The scenes did not exist in his original text, and he was confused when, before he had seen the production, a reporter from the college's newspaper asked him what he thought of the "sex scenes at the end of the play." "That's funny," he thought, "that she would call them sex scenes." He then saw the production and realized, "there are sex scenes at the end!" It was not a pleasant experience for him.

Most interesting of all, I found out that, by his own admission, Durang hates conflict. And when an audience member asked the playwrights if they ever "retract something from the page because they are scared of how it would be received," Durang was the first one to step forward and elaborate on how he did tend to do that. Most of this was stemming from his experiences with the Catholic League and their forceful protests against his play Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All For You. "Most people seemed to think that I enjoyed all the controversy," he confided, "but, I did not enjoy it."

Paula Vogel is always a galvanizing speaker, and she started off by saying that she thinks that individual voice in the theatre is being killed. She stated some of the same concerns at the NETC conference a few weeks ago. She thinks that the creativity by committe or, worse, focus group is turning theatre into the same marketing machine as Hollywood is. She thinks that the commercial and the LORT theatre is suffering, but that small, community theatre is alive and well. Some of her best experiences were working at Perseverance Theatre in Alaska where she developed How I Learned to Drive.

Paula disagreed with her other playwrights when she said that she welcomes other directors to add to the experience of her plays. "The entity is the play, not the script," she said. But she did think that a disturbing practice is happening wherein MFA students are being taught to cross out the stage directions when approaching a play. She thinks that the playwright is speaking to you in those elaborate stage directions, and that you have to read those. I myself think of how August Wilson opens the playscripts of Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, or Joe Turner's Come and Gone. To not pay attention to those descriptions is to ignore a major clue in the meanings of the plays.

The last guest was Jim Nicola, the artistic director of New York TheatreWorks. He is passionate about the theatre and since he does not have the creative talent, he thinks that the best thing he can do is strive to provide a venue for those original voices. He expressed how plays are very dependent on our language and how he has noticed, as a specific example, how Caryl Churchill's playscripts have gotten smaller and smaller over the years.

There was spirited discussion concerning an assertion made by Ms. Vogel that the audiences have to be part of the journey or else the theatre will die. Mr. Guare kind of agreed and noted how theatre people tend to speak of their interaction with the audience. "We killed them." "They weren't giving us anything." "They are killing us."

Ms. Wasserstein noted that she has been on almost a panel a year that asks, "Is theatre dying?" Government giving was brought up and Mr. Brustein noted that the NEA has done itself in by its problems with Mapplethorpe, etc. And that its original mission was to help subsidize Arts organizations in order to make the arts more accessible to the public. He said that they have failed in doing that. The question of bringing young people into the theatre was attached to the affordability issue, but I disagree and think that Ed Siegel addressed the question more thoughtfully in last week's panel when he said that the theatre needs to look at Blue Man, Stomp, and def Poetry Jam, if they want to attract younger audiences. Young people find the money to go to concerts.

Congratulations to Robert Brustein, once again. I hope that these types of discussions can continue in other forums and with other panelists.x
===Art Hennessey

American Theatre at a Crossroad:
The Function of the Critic

From: Norfolk1a@aol.com
Date: Wed, 12 Nov 2003 12:55:44 -0500
Subject: Re: The Function of the Critic

Hi Larry,
Feel free to post my little summation of the panel discussion as it doesn't seem like too many others attended and I think it is important to include on your site.

Hi Larry,
I did manage to go. Here is a quick report on most of the major things said. This is the best of my recollection, so apologies if I misquoted anybody. Quote of the night "Madmen and Critics are the only ones in this culture referred to as raving," Linda Winer, Newsday.

American Theatre at a Crossroad: The Function of the Critic.

Robert Brustein started off the evening by asking the critics to respond to a few questions;
1. What are the differences between daily critics and less regular criticism that would allow more time to think about the work?
2. How has the reduced print space affected criticism?
3. Should the critic's function be a consumer guide or an advocate for the the theatre.

The critics each didn't necessarily answer all of these questions, but they did address interesting issues.
It is pretty obvious that none of them subscribe to the notion that they should be advocates for the theatre.

Carolyn Clay started off by saying that there is a place in the theatre community for those who "can't do," as the saying goes, and she stated that the critics chair is one of those places. She also stated that a good critic goes a little further than the "thumbs up, thumbs down" opinionation and that it is necessary for the critic to provide a little guidance.

Indeed, all of the critics bemoaned the onset of the "capsulization culture."

Linda Winer from Newsday was a former Chicago Tribune colleague of Gene Siskel and said that she would often tell him that he and Roger Ebert had started the arts reviewing community on the road to ruin. In fact, her husband, who is a music critic for a London Paper, recently received word that he would have to start giving stars to his performance reviews. "How do you give stars to a chamber orchestra piece?" she asked.

Peter Marks, critic from the Washington Post, and a former Off-Broadway reviewer for the New York Times was a great speaker and a passionate critical voice, but also the sobering cold water of reality. In the end, he seemed to keep pressing, people scan the review to see whether or not you reccommend it. In the end, "you are paid to say whether it is good or bad." He also stated in his opening remarks that he has come to the conclusion that theatre just doesn't matter to enough people anymore.

He is right. I remember seeing a Biography presentation of Marlon Brando and seeing footage of him being mobbed by literally thousands of people during his triumphant turn as Stanley in Streetcar Named Desire. We just don't have that much interest anymore today.

Linda Winer added that the theatre producers are implicit in this "thumbs up, thumbs down" culture. She implored the producers not to always pull blurbs from the reviews to plaster all over buses in town. She said that this type of advertising is legitimizing the viewpoint that the critics in the powerful papers are always correct. She joked that she said something nice about a play once and she saw her quote on the sides of buses for the next 10 years. She also had some choice words about some of the producers' tactics. For instance, selling previews as if they are normal performances. "People are paying full price to watch practice," she said,"the least they can do is inform people to that fact." Another pet peeve she has is the "$1.25 building maintenance and restoration fee." She doesn't think that people need to pay an extra dollar, "to clean the toilets in the theatre."

Ed Siegel was probably the least outspoken of anybody on the stage, and his philosophy amounted to basically, "if you call them as you see them," in the end you will have done a good job for the theatre in general. He also wished he could do more of his longer Sunday theatre pieces in order to elaborate on productions or the theatrical climate. And he has found that as he has evolved in his role he is putting less and less guidance and history of the dramatic pieces into his daily reviews.
Mr. Siegel also offered that while one of the theatre's biggest problems is getting young audiences, he doesn't even see young audiences attending the cheaper, younger, and edgier productions in town. Where he sees young audiences are at performances like Stomp and Def Poetry Jam. "The theatre needs to look to that direction if they want to attract new audiences."

Rocco Landesman was on hand as a former critic and now a producer in New York. His thoughts were that the papers make bad choices for their reviewers, noting that sometimes the restaurant critic is moved over to cover theater. A little embarassing for him to find out a few minutes later that that is almost exactly how Peter Marks was appointed as a stringer at the New York Times.
He also reccommended that critics must and should take a sabbatical now and then because a sustained period of time reviewing will eventually result in burnout or very automatic reviews. (Something which was agreed to by several of the critics.)
In concert with an point-counterpoint argument in this month's American Theatre magazine, Mr. Landesman also pointed to a distinct lack of journalism in the the realm of theatre criticism. He gave an example of how the late Walter Kerr would always try to report what happened in the theatre the night before and what it was like to be there for the experience.

My favorite story of the discussion was when Peter Marks told of how he did an assignment where he went to see New York shows as a regular audience member. He would go well into the run of established hits. First off, he had to pay to see the shows, and secondly he found himself experiencing the show from the depths of the balcony and the far sides of the orchestra. Lo and Behold, the show is a very different experience seeing it from balcony M9 than, "safe in my Orchestra F 102 seat." It was an eye opening experience for him.

The discussion started to move into an interesting territory with regards to subscribers and reviewing for people that have already bought a ticket. Peter Marks poked fun at his local regional theatre Arena Stage and how they are doing Camelot this year. Indeed all the critics poked fun at that notion.

However, I can't help feeling that there will be a day when the Royal National Theatre will reinvent Camelot and all the critics seated on that panel will all fawn all over it gushingly.

Kudos to Robert Brustein for organizing these discussions and Kudos to the Huntington for hosting them.
The next event will be on November 17th. The topic will be The Future of the Playwright. Paula Vogel will be on the panel; I just heard her give the Keynote at the NETC Conference this past weekend, and she should provide for lively discussion.
===Art Hennessey

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide